Shootaround (July 24): Inside the Kyrie Irving situation
This morning’s headlines:
- Inside the Kyrie Irving situation
- Bledsoe loves Phoenix but wants to win
- Jeanie Buss is the Lakers’ Wonder Woman
- The greatest game MJ ever played?
Inside the Kyrie Irving situation — Last week’s report that Kyrie Irving had asked the Cleveland Cavaliers for a trade came as a shock to many around the NBA. But perhaps it wasn’t such a surprise to the Cavs. As a trio of ESPN’s NBA writers report, Irving actually asked to be traded weeks ago, and the Cavs have tried to deal with that even while letting GM David Griffin leave…
Irving was tired of being Robin to James’ Batman. Tired of having another superstar — even one of the best players of all time — in control of his fate. Yes, he had learned from James in the three seasons they’d played together. Yes, he was appreciative. But Irving felt the time had come to take his destiny into his own hands. He wanted to be the centerpiece of a team, as he thought he was going to be three years ago, when he signed a five-year extension 11 days before James decided to come home.
James has signed three contracts with the Cavs since Irving’s long-term commitment, and James can be a free agent again next year. Although he has given no legitimate indication he wants to leave Cleveland, he has also given no ironclad indication he wants to stay for a fourth contract. And it is unlikely he will offer any such assurance about his future in the short term, a reality everyone involved with the Cavs has been aware of.
And so on July 7, the kid who used to spend hours studying YouTube videos and perfecting his 1-on-1 moves in the driveway of his New Jersey home, walked into a planned sit-down with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and asked to be traded. Then he told him he preferred it to be to one of four teams: the Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat or New York Knicks.
Irving had been thinking about this day for some time. In preparation, he’d reached out to people he trusted seeking advice on how to go about it.
Over the previous few months, the Cavs had been worried about Irving’s mindset. They knew at times he’d grown unhappy with playing a secondary role on the team. Griffin had several conversations with Irving throughout the year, sources said, trying to find ways to improve the situation. But Irving had become irritated before, the side effects of James’ greatness — and largesse — wearing on him. The Cavs had been able to navigate it, and they hoped to again.
Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history. Which means the ball was out of Irving’s hands more than he preferred. That said, Irving led the Cavs in shots in the 2016-17 season, averaging 1.5 more per game than James, and Irving averaged a career-high 25.9 points. It was the first time in James’ career he didn’t lead his team in shots per game.
But there were ancillary issues that bothered Irving, too, such as how James’ good friend Randy Mims had a position on the Cavs’ staff and traveled on the team plane while none of Irving’s close friends were afforded the same opportunity. Irving chafed about how peers such as Damian Lillard and John Wall were the center of their franchises and catered to accordingly. There’s irony there, as Wall was envious of Irving’s Nike shoe deal and Lillard has never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. Irving has been to three Finals and has a championship.
Bledsoe loves Phoenix but wants to win — One city that has come up as a possible landing spot for Kyrie irving is Phoenix, with Eric Bledsoe’s name being mentioned in any return package. Scott Bordow from the Arizona Republic caught up with Bledsoe this weekend at his youth camp, where Bledsoe said he loves Phoenix but also wants to win, two things that may not be agreeable, at least not immediately.
Eric Bledsoe loves the Valley. So does his family. He’s purchased a home here and on Sunday he had a big smile on his face as about 90 kids raced up and down the floor on the second day of his summer camp at Supreme Courts in Chandler.
“I like seeing the kids who support me,” Bledsoe said. “It’s nice to finally meet them and talk to them.”
The kids – more than 90 in all – had a ton of questions for Bledsoe. The one he heard most: Who’s the toughest NBA player to cover?
“I told them, ‘Whoever I’m playing that night,’ ” Bledsoe said. “There’s always a good point guard in this league.
That list includes Bledsoe, of course. The question is, how long will he play that position for the Suns?
Kyrie Irving has told the Cleveland Cavaliers he wants to be traded and Bledsoe’s name has come up, in part because he’s good friends with LeBron James. One rumor has the Suns getting involved as a third team in the deal, with Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler winding up in Cleveland.
Then there’s the question of whether Bledsoe wants to remain in Phoenix. He has embraced the Valley, saying, “I love everything about it.” But as he told azcentral sports Sunday, “At the same time I want to win.”
At 27, Bledsoe doesn’t fit into the Suns’ youth movement, or #timeline, as it’s been coined on social media. He said he “definitely feels” like an old man among his teammates. Then there was this response when asked what he thought of the Suns’ offseason:
“We got Josh Jackson. James Jones (in the front office). But for the most part, I don’t care,” he said. “Whatever team we have at training I’m going to play my heart out for. I just control what I can control. Getting better every time I step onto the floor.”
Bledsoe reiterated that he was upset when the Suns shut him down for the final 14 games last season. He was playing arguably the best basketball of his career, averaging 21.1 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game.
“The front office made a decision and I had to live with it,” Bledsoe said. “I wasn’t OK with it, and I don’t know what basketball player would be. I want to compete. We weren’t winning but I still wanted to play with my teammates. But I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Jeanie Buss is the Lakers’ Wonder Woman — In her role as controlling owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jeanie Buss has put her imprint on the franchise over the last year. By bringing in Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, Buss has the Lakers building for the future, and aiming to return to the franchise’s legendary glory days. As Bill Oram writes in the Orange County Register, one of the most powerful people in sports didn’t get to that position by accident…
Jeanie Buss recently flipped through a photo album that belonged to her father, the late Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. On the hunt for pictures that could appear in a documentary she is helping produce about the Showtime-era Lakers, she paused on a page of photos from her childhood.
There in a star-spangled leotard and knee-high red boots was Wonder Woman, the hero of millions of 20th century girls – including Jeanie Buss.
Here, Wonder Woman was scaling a fence. And here Wonder Woman rode a plastic horse. The action figure Jerry Buss gave his first daughter performed various acts of backyard heroism, all carefully assembled and photographed by a 10-year-old Jeanie.
Now 55, Jeanie Buss is at the helm of the Lakers and the Southern California News Group’s most powerful person in Southern California sports (see complete list of top 50) after an explosive year in which she seized control and breathed life into the family business. Before Jeanie did those things, however, she was a girl who collected comic books and especially loved a certain DC Comics superhero.
Jeanie grew up believing she could do anything. That’s what her father always told her. She could do anything, and what better role model than Wonder Woman, who understood her powers and how to use them?
“My dad encouraged it,” she said in her El Segundo office last month, where a Wonder Woman mug sits on a shelf. “My dad encouraged a strong woman.”
Looking at those photos of the plastic doll, she was transported back to childhood and saw her current life from a new perspective. She thought, “All of this makes sense.”
One of the last gifts Jerry Buss gave Jeanie was Wonder Woman #1, the first issued comic book from 1942. When he died in 2013, he left the Lakers to his six children, but stipulated that Jeanie was to be the controlling owner, with total oversight. Over the past few months, she was forced to flex her muscle in ways she never had, guiding the organization out of what she called “a very gray area for the team.” She fired her older brother Jim as president of basketball operations and sent longtime General Manager Mitch Kupchak packing, as well.
To rescue the franchise from its streak of losing seasons, she hired franchise legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, giving herself a friend in the seat where previously she only encountered resistance and confusion.
In the process, she fought off a courtroom crusade by her two older brothers in a dramatic but brief bid for control of the team.
Jeanie Buss emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Lakers and the primary ambassador of one of the most essential symbols of Los Angeles prestige.
“I do feel like I fought a battle,” she said, “and I feel more ownership.”
The breakthrough can be traced to an Amazonian warrior molded from clay who received her powers directly from the Greek gods; to a backyard fence and little Jeanie Buss behind the camera.
“She really was attracted to that good person that had good intentions, heroic, wants to make the earth a better place,” said Linda Rambis, the Lakers’ manager of special events and Jeanie’s closest friend. “Maybe that really stuck in her heart for all these years.
Jeanie named a film company she owns – Gold Rope Productions – after the golden Lasso of Truth Wonder Woman wielded to break down evildoers.
“No doubt she’s an inspiration for me,” Jeanie said.
So when the moment came that Jeanie felt the Lakers were in peril, she acted, summoning fortitude some wondered if she even had.
“I don’t think she ever knew that she would have the strength to make the tough decisions,” Rambis said. “I think that’s probably her testing her own will.”
On Feb. 21, she fired her own brother and effectively hit reset on a franchise that had sunk lower than it ever had; lower than, she believed, it ever should have.
“I didn’t get new power,” she said. “I had the power. I just chose to exercise the power.”
The greatest game MJ ever played? — Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the game Michael Jordan called the “greatest game I ever played in”: A scrimmage at a Dream Team practice in Monaco just before the 1992 Summer Olympics. As ESPN’s Micah Adams recounts, it has lived on as the greatest scrimmage ever played.
When asked by ESPN’s Michael Wilbon several years ago about the competitive nature of that day in Monte Carlo, Jordan’s response says it all: “Greatest game I’ve ever played in. All the beautiful things about the game of basketball were illustrated in that one particular game. If you culminate everybody in the Hall of Fame and every game they played in, and you envision a game being played, that’s how that game was played.”
It was essentially an empty gym: no fans, no press, no TV cameras, no written records or official box scores, with the lone video footage coming courtesy of one of head coach Chuck Daly’s video guys with the Pistons. John Stockton and Clyde Drexler were nursing injuries, so that left Daly with a group of 10 that he split into the white and blue teams, led by Jordan and Magic Johnson. Flanking Jordan on the white team were Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing. Joining Johnson on the blue team were Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin, David Robinson and Christian Laettner.
As there are no official stats, it’s hard to provide any real hard-hitting analysis beyond the most surface-level detail.
That being said, Jack McCallum’s book “Dream Team” — a must-read if you’re into any and all things about this near-mythical team — contains a play-by-play account of the scrimmage. With that account as our guide, we tallied the scoring, and to absolutely nobody’s surprise Jordan was the game’s leading scorer, with 17 of the white’s 40 points.
Despite trailing 7-0 and being down by as many as nine points, Jordan’s white team prevailed 40-36 thanks in part to a 17-4 run fueled by jumpers, drives and trash talk.
Some Random Headlines — Marresse Speights has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Orlando Magic … Report: LeBron will not waive his no-trade clause this season … Former Knicks exec Gerald Madkins is returning to the Knicks’ front office … Danny Ainge got dunked on by his son