Friday, May 14, 2010

A story of two Phenoms

"Good luck, LeBron. Go ahead, put in your 39-8-8 again so that everyone else can be you go home way too early for yet another year in your career." -Clifton Jessup III

"Clifton, I tried." -Lebron James after 27 pts, 19 reb, 10 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk, and 9 TO

The picture above is interesting. Certainly because of the circumstances surrounding the embrace, but mainly because of who is doing it. Both High School phenoms, one of them now a grizzled veteran clearly on the downside of his career, the other entering the peak of his. Both entered the league as precocious 18 year olds, one with much hype and expectations, the other widely expected in some circles to be a bust.Drafted to cellar dwelling teams who were more then happy to start them early in their career and give them as much PT as necessary. The difference? The grizzled veteran, while he didn't have the explosive start to his career like the younger gun, found out that he will only go as far as his team will let him take them and that above all, he needed help. That help arrived in leaving his beloved draft team and hooking up with with 2 other veterans who had accomplished pretty much everything they wanted to on an individual level except lasting playoff success and a championship ring. 82 games and a thrilling 2008 playoffs later, ubuntu was released to the masses, and the grizzled veteran got his ring. Anything is Possible.

The younger gun, however, at this point must sit and realize that after 7 seasons with multiple teammates, things haven't worked as expected. The individual accolades have come, two League MVPs, All Star Games,and puppets, but the thing which is keeping him from truly being a King is that Ring. At this point, no one is sure that he will stay with his home state team and continue to fight to break a 60 year streak of championships of any kind unless you count Drew Carey's Emmys. (Actually scratch that, he's never won one. Let's make that "Unless you count Drew Carey's People's Choice Award.") In a city where the sport's fans openly say "God Hates us" and the city is known as the "Mistake by the lake", Lebron James has been a savior. For him to leave, for them to have to take down the giant billboard down town and play games at the Q without him, would devastate the city. It may very well kill professional basketball in that region and force a move (all the Seattle fans are standing up screaming). Lebron has done nothing to help the media scrutiny about where he would end up. As a matter of fact, he has encouraged it, being coy in interviews and wearing other city's sports teams on his head. It's no wonder that the fans in Boston last night, among the savviest and smartest basketball fans in America, would start a chant like this. I hope that everyone is clear on a couple of things.

Number one, Mike Brown is and should be fired. He might be the poorest offensive coach in the League. NO questions. Even if Lebron returns, a ring will not come on Brown's watch. Not that Brown, anyway (Larry pick up!!).

Secondly, this roster needs a revamp. I have always wondered why on earth the team chose to settle for Jamison over Stoudemire. With Amare, this team may very well be preparing for Orlando on Sunday. Also, lets be clear that Lebron does not yet have a capable and confident second in command who can consistently play well along side him. Being a Bulls fan from the 90s, Scottie Pippen will forever be that prototype, and sadly, not too many of him exist anymore in the league. The closest one is Lamar Odom and he has already found his way to his Michael.

So what happens now? Lebron James is at a crossroads of his career. Stay in Cleveland, and risk becoming Karl Malone (without John Stockton), the face of a franchise which never gets the job done, or leave for a bigger market and deal with even greater expectations (if that is even possible). The thing that is the elephant in the room is that at this point, he is no closer to a ring then when he started. Michael Jordan won his first ring at age 28 in year 7 of his career. Lebron is in year 7 now, and is 25. Those 3 years of cushion may prove incredibly valuable. At this point however, Jordan had a STABLE, DEPENDABLE supporting cast, with a fellow All Star who didn't disappear in big games in Scottie Pippen (save the migraine talk, please) and cold blooded spot up shooters. Lebron has none of that. What he does have, is a center way past his prime who slows down the offense and needs the ball, a smaller combo guard who is a streaky shooter and can't be counted on, and an aging forward whose biggest weapon is a prayerful finger roll flip (much like Clifton's!) from crazy angles and a jumper which may not show. THIS WILL NOT WORK. The teams at the top of the league have rosters where 1-8 are talented and know their roles. Cleveland is a team 1-3; 1 and 2 may not necessarily show up. Lebron has finally reached the point where it may prove too difficult to meet or exceed expectations. That is amazing for me, as he has been so far ahead of the curve since the beginning. But expectations, like Father Time, don't stop once you start beating them, they only get greater. No one is discussing what impact this injury will have on Lebron either. I think it is way more serious than he is letting on. After 7 years in the league (lots of mileage, ask Kobe), rehab will not be the same as at age 21. The way Lebron plays (like Wade) doesn't help his health prognosis in the league as he gets older either. I don't see how Lebron doesn't leave, yet I don't see how he's not rebuilding with any decision he makes. I wish him the best, and for my father's sake (and health) hope for this:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Same OLD Cavs

This article spawned in my mind after reading the Bleacher Report article at the following link:

LeBron James is the greatest athletic spectacle in the world today. Unfortunately for him, that has placed his game in the crosshairs of overanalysis and debate since he was drafted in 2003.

For much of his career, he has exceeded expectations--averaging 20-5-5 as a rookie, winning 50+ games in his third season, reaching the NBA Finals as a 22-year-old.

Now, at 25 years old, LeBron can no longer exceed expectations. The literal world is expected of him. He spent the first five years of his career carrying misfits and experimental additions as far as he possibly could. Now he leads a veteran bunch that, while the best teammates he's had, offers him absolutely no future, to even see where his place in history will be by 30.

In my opinion, other than this guy, and LeBron's own desire to become a global icon superseding his ambitions in NBA achievements, the major culprit in LeBron's failure to win a championship--last year, this year, and any year in the future--has been Cleveland's perpetual "WIN NOW" mentality.

No one seemed to notice, but every two years or so in LeBron's seven-year career, his team goes through a complete makeover. The only teammates he's seen survive more than one of such makeovers are Big Z and Anderson Varejao. Everyone else on the team has been there for four years or less (and it would be two years or less if we weren't accomodating Boobie Gibson, the 12th man!). Everyone.

Do you know what that means? After 3 seasons in Seattle/OKC, Kevin Durant has as many teammates that have three years of chemistry with him (Jeff Green, Nick Collison) as LeBron does. And what's worse? All the talent on LeBron's team is 27 and older, while Durant's starting 5 featured two 21-year-olds, a 23-year-old, a 25-year-old, and at times a 20-year-old center.

The Thunder plan to patiently build a champion, in a mold I have never seen so intentionally attempted--of the '90s-era Bulls. Rather than trading picks away and surrounding Durant with an older team that could win 50 games that year, they surrounded him with hard-working, high character, talent. Right now, in only year 3 of the experiment that has gone so well, the Thunder are legitimately 1 or 2 pieces from contending for a championship...for the next decade. Meanwhile, LeBron was able to accumulate the best record in the league the past two seasons, but with a team that lacks talent, chemistry, and any sort of future.

So now, as we are potentially a nightfall from witnessing a series-closing loss in Boston, I can't help but wonder a few things about the Cavs decision-making. Of course, Year 1 of the Shaquille O'Neal era (can we call it an era if we know it's only gonna last a season?) seems to continue this same disastrous train of thought for LeBron's career.

What if the Thunder plan had been used over the past 7 years of LeBron's career? What if in 2004 they'd drafted Al Jefferson or Josh/JR Smith instead of Luke Jackson, the shooter you MAYBE draft 29th when you're a playoff team, but not 10th when you aren't?

What if Sasha Pavlovic wasn't worth their 2005 first round pick in 2004? What if they'd kept that 13th pick? What if LeBron had been running with Danny Granger for the last 6 years?

What if Jiri Welsch wasn't worth their 2007 first round pick in 2005? What if they'd just waited and gotten the player chosen with that pick, Rudy Fernandez? Or two picks later, Aaron Brooks?

What if they hadn't cut Kelenna Azubuike in 2005? They traded FOR Sasha Pavlovic, and CUT Azubuike.

What if the time spent experimenting on backcourts with Lucious Harris, Eric Snow, Sasha Pavlovic, Jeff McInnis, Devin Brown, and Mateen Cleaves was used to develop some young guards, maybe with size or speed, to play with LeBron? Heck, what if they'd given Shannon Brown a friggin chance after they drafted him in 2006?!

Let's not even start on the frontcourt that included Zendon Hamilton, Lorenzen Wright, Jake Tsakalidis, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje, Jahidi White, Jerome Moiso, and the incomparably old Scott Williams!

Of course hindsight is 20/20. Of course it is. But the fact're playing with house money. You've got the most gifted athlete, possibly in the world today. He's playing for his home crowd. He doesn't have any logical reasons to abandon your team. He's 18, 19, 20 years old. What's the problem with being at least a bit patient?

Why not find some top-notch scouts, look for talented young players, see what works with LeBron, and go with it? THE STANDS WILL STILL BE FULL. As we saw with Oklahoma City this season, a team that works hard and has young legs is enough to remain competitive every night. Maybe their mistake was in judging all young players based on Ricky Davis and Darius Miles, and choosing to abandon athleticism and talent for the more predictable maturity and experience.

As for LeBron's killer instinct, I think there has been a great degree of overreaction. LeBron plays hard every night he suits up, which at this point is more than 90 times in the past 7 months. He's done this for the last seven years, so unfortunately, I think he knows better than we do when his team has it, and when they don't. I think he's a guy who sees that his team doesn't have it. He knows what it takes, he's hit the brick wall of the Spurs and Celtics before, so he knows what a champion looks like. Last year he averaged 39-8-8 and was eliminated from the East Finals. This year he's injured, plus his old team got a year older. I don't know that he believes in this team.

Does that translate into him leaving next season? Quite frankly, I don't think there are any clues to be read into at this point. Either he will leave or he won't. What I do think, though, is...he'd be crazy not to at least take a look at New Jersey and Chicago. We know about Noah and Rose for the Bulls, but with the Nets, they've got a billionaire owner (remember: "Global Icon?"), a major market, a new stadium, a top-3 pick in the draft (John Wall?), a stud center, a boatload of young talent, a solid amount of cap space, and possibly Devin Harris as trade bait.

His alternative is to let his career remain in the hands of Coach Mike Brown and his panicked rotations and Danny Ferry, who hasn't met a washed-up veteran he wouldn't sign. And Cleveland...we've already seen how hard that is to sell, it's a lot more this... than this.

Good luck, LeBron. Go ahead, put in your 39-8-8 again so that everyone else can be you go home way too early for yet another year in your career.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What happened to Lebron James?

"One of the biggest playoff wins in KNICKS history."

--'s John Hollinger


First, let me apologize for not posting as much as I wanted to during the Playoffs.
Now that that is out of the way, WHAT IS GOING ON WITH LEBRON JAMES?!

I watched Game 5 last night and that is by far the poorest performance I have seen him put in as a pro. And my assessment has nothing to do with his stat line. He just wasn't trying. He wasn't tuned in or focused on helping his team in the game. His shot wasn't falling, and instead of focusing on the other facets of his game (rebounding. defense, passing) which in my opinion makes him MORE dangerous then when he is scoring, what does he do? Check out of the game! His play affected his team as well. No one could get it going, and the Boston Celtics, long thought to be old and washed up, wrecked them. In Cleveland. This is unfathomable.

At this point in time, I can't see Cleveland making the East finals, much less the NBA Finals. They just don't have the personnel. They have coasted through the regular season, and now, for a 3rd straight year, are being exposed to have a lot of bark and no bite. Besides Lebron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have NO ONE who demands respect from any team. Now compare that statement with the Lakers roster. Even if you are a Laker's hater, they have personnel who are a threat whenever, or where ever they play. Pau Gasol is one of the top big men in the league. Lamar Odom can at any moment grab a rebound, block a shot, initiate the offense, defend the other team's best player, or hit a jumper. Ron Artest can defend and at the very least rough up the other team's best player (Kevin Durant, anyone?) as well as occasionally hit an open jumper.The Mo Williams experiment is dead. He does not have the tools or the skills to be a confident dependable #2 option for this team. Ditto for the rest of the roster, including Shaq. In my opinion, Lebron needs a Joe Johnson or Lamar Odom. Get them and things get better in a hurry. Someone who can defend the other teams best player, initiate offense on their own, and be enough of a threat to demand attention (essentially, replicate Scottie Pippen's role and performance). This also has proven to me that in the end, Boston, LA, and Orlando have better TEAMS (by far!) than Cleveland. It is actually a tribute to how great Lebron is that he has been able to mask their shortcomings. But make no mistake. This Cavs teams is downright fraudulent when it comes to being a contender. They can't defend consistently or rebound. Even if they pull off a comeback miracle in this series, DO NOT expect them to make it to the Finals or to win against the Lakers (yes, I'm picking them already). I can't give Lebron a bail out as far as his injury goes because he never even asserted himself and attempted shots. At no point did he play like the alpha dog for the Cavs, and that is what shocked me the most. It's almost as if they don't think they can win. This game may very well stand as an example as how much more he has to go to be considered the best or even one of the best to ever play the game.