Weekly Countdown (cont.)
Oklahoma City is the owners' favorite model. While players want to play for teams that are willing to spend big in pursuit of a championship, most owners are envious of the disciplined Thunder, who have built a low-payroll roster of promising young players around third-year MVP candidate Kevin Durant. The Thunder have it all -- cheap labor, upside and a team that figures to make the playoffs and eventually contend for championships. The players' union will not appreciate this model.
I saw your comment stating that "The NBA fined [Dan] Gilbert because David Stern doesn't want owners or executives lambasting players for exercising their rights." I'm not sure if you were agreeing or not with Stern's actions in fining Gilbert, but my question is this: When did the right to become a free agent trump the right to free speech?
-- Jack, Cleveland
Gilbert's $100,000 fine was predictable, let's put it that way. He was essentially criticizing the NBA product -- James is a two-time MVP and one of the faces of the league -- as a coward and a quitter. It was no surprise he was fined.
Free speech? An employee who criticizes the boss or the company in a public way will expect to be punished. The same dynamic goes here, Jack.
Why should I attend an NBA game in a small- to mid-market NBA city? The attitude of the stars is not about commitment; it's about their agenda and being located in the higher-profile market. I can tell you this as a fan of the Raptors, I have been to my last game for quite some time. I have no belief that the NBA has the best interests of the markets I mentioned in its consideration. I hope people in these markets also take a stand. The NFL does it the best, and the NHL to a lesser extent, of giving their fans belief that there is something to cheer and support.
-- Sean O'Reilly, Kitchener, Ont.
That's what the next collective bargaining agreement is expected to address. At the moment, the best teams are the biggest spenders who are willing and able to pay huge luxury-tax penalties in order to hoard the most talent. After next season, Stern hopes to be able to tell you and millions of other fans that your teams have as much chance of contending as the Lakers and the Celtics. First, he'll have to get the players to go along. He'll probably have to convince them by locking them out for an extended length of time until they can't bear to go without another paycheck.
Do you think the LeBron, Wade, Bosh union in Miami will cause a ripple effect of players legally colluding to make their own "Big Three"? I read that Chris Paul said at Carmelo's wedding, "We will make our own big three in N.Y.!" This disturbs me because the NBA is top heavy with teams to begin with and is probably the major sport that has the least amount of parity. If we have 3-4 super teams, and the other 26 have no shot on Day 1, I think it could hurt the league as a whole.
-- Chris Olivo, Cherry Hill, NJ
My feeling is that NBA fans love to see a few exceptional teams. The 1980s are viewed as the league's golden era in part because the early part of that decade was dominated by a few teams -- the Lakers, Celtics and 76ers -- who hoarded the talent. Thereafter we heard complaints that expansion had damaged the league, in part because there were no great teams built to challenge Jordan's Bulls.
The difficulty for Paul and Anthony is that they aren't free agents, which limits their ability to demand trades to the same team. The formation of Miami's threesome was years in the making, and I doubt we'll see anything like it again anytime soon.
Does Suns owner Robert Sarver know what he is doing? With all of the good front-office candidates out there (Kevin Pritchard, Jeff Bower), he goes and hires an agent, Lon Babby, to run things? Can this work? Won't there be some huge conflicts of interest?
-- Ray R., Scottsdale, Ariz.
Does anyone care about conflicts of interest anymore? It's obvious that Wade was recruiting James and Bosh to come to Miami when both of those players were working for other teams. Babby's player contacts give him inroads that could help the Suns, and his understanding of negotiations from the players' view won't hurt Phoenix either. In addition, he'll hire a traditional NBA executive to work under him.
The questions on this topic were so good that I created an extra mailbag section to deal with them.
The problem with your column ("LeBron's decision could redefine greatness") is that you ignore the fact that LeBron has allowed himself to be sold as The Man by Nike, Gatorade, etc. He is expected to be The Man because he created that expectation, not because Jordan or Kobe or whoever else did it first. If a guy makes hundreds of millions of dollars pretending to be something, then people expect him to be that.
-- Jason, Chicago
I'm sure LeBron will be marketed to the same high level in Miami as he was in Cleveland. It's also worth noting that Magic Johnson was marketed in a similar way with the Lakers even though statistically he wasn't "The Man" on his team.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar owned a championship ring when Magic arrived as his teammate. Abdul-Jabbar was already a five-time MVP and he was well on his way to becoming the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Look in the record books and you'll find that Abdul-Jabbar scored more points and won more titles and MVPs than Magic. And yet, none of those achievements changes the impression that Magic was the star of those teams.
Let's see how it plays out, but a few years from now I believe people will have a different view of James than they're expressing now. If the Heat win multiple titles and he is seen as the quarterback, no one will care that Wade won one more title than LeBron, just as no one cared that Abdul-Jabbar had the same advantage over Magic.
I don't presume to speak for everyone, but I disagree with your premise that only because of Jordan is LeBron being viewed as "not measuring up." In my mind it has nothing to do with scoring, rather with leadership. Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon did not lead the league in scoring when they won and were surrounded by excellent (even Hall of Fame) players, but it was always their team. And none of them was paired with another player of their caliber in their prime. Even Jordan had a HOF player with him for all his championships, but again, it was Jordan's team. LeBron has gone to Dwyane's team, and in that has lost his claim to the same level of greatness. Whether he truly wanted that role is immaterial, because he has tried to lay claim to it ever since "King" James entered the league. Even if he wins multiple championships with the Heat, I don't see how you could ever mention him in the same breath with those others.
-- Walt, Washington, D.C.
I've got to say I couldn't disagree more with you, Walt.
When you say none of those champions was paired with "another player of their caliber in their prime," you're forgetting that Bird was paired in the frontcourt with Kevin McHale, whom Charles Barkley calls "the best player I ever played against." There were five potential Hall of Famers on the 1985-86 Celtics team -- Bird, McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton, and the first four of them were in their prime. Magic had Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy with another Hall of Famer in Bob McAdoo coming off the bench early in Johnson's career. Russell had too many Hall of Fame teammates to count.
You're assuming that James won't emerge as the best player on his team in Miami. How can you make that assumption?
I understand why so many people believe he ran out on his responsibilities as a team leader in Cleveland -- that was my initial reaction, too. But when I started hearing of the idea that he would become Miami's version of Magic Johnson, then I started to understand there may be another dynamic at play here.
You tell me how many championships Magic would have won without Abdul-Jabbar? I'll tell you the answer is zero.
James wants to play with great players, just as Bird and Magic did long before Michael Jordan came along to change everyone's perception of what "The Man" is supposed to represent.
If James wins championships with Miami in the role of Magic Johnson, he's going to receive a lot of credit for acting on his vision to leave Cleveland.
You wrote, "But what if James has never viewed himself as the second coming? What if he never wanted to be the next Jordan?" C'mon, Ian, this guy calls himself KING JAMES and you're trying to say that maybe he doesn't want to be The Man? They hang a giant banner in Cleveland for him that says "Witness" and he doesn't want to be The Man? Then what exactly were we supposed to be witnessing? LeBron being the second banana? I think he tried to be Jordan and got eaten alive by the enormous pressure and now he's bailed out to South Beach to play Tonto to Wade's Lone Ranger.
-- Tom, Ocean, NJ
What if he wants to be "The Man" in the same way that Magic was "The Man?" That's the point I was making. There is more than one way to lead a team to championships.
With Larry Bird on LeBron James. We've heard from Jordan and Johnson about LeBron's move to Miami, so last week I asked Bird about it. He wasn't interested in the topic.
I asked Bird if he's given much thought to James' decision to leave Cleveland in order to play with Wade in Miami.
"Not really," said Bird, who is president of the Pacers. "He's a free agent, he can do what he wants to do. He's got to make his own decisions."
How well will he play alongside Wade and Bosh?
"LeBron scores a lot of points, but he's got an all-around game," Bird said. "If somebody's open, he's going to make the play. He's the same as Magic as a playmaker. He'll keep everybody happy.
"I think he's the best or second-best player in the league," Bird said of James. "He's very talented and he does a little bit of everything -- defend, pass, score. He's not going to have any problem."
Will Wade thrive alongside James?
"I think it's fine," Bird said. "Both are talented, both know how to play, and the ultimate goal is to win. They'll fit together pretty nice.
"Obviously they've got lot of talent and a lot of very good players who are going to play together. It's tough to deal with, but other teams are also very tough. The Lakers are champions for a reason -- they're talented, they can play big, they can play small, and then they've got Kobe. The Lakers and Miami are two of the top five or six teams."
I asked Bird if anyone used to talk about being "The Man" when he was playing for the Celtics. He scoffed at that one and said, "No."
With an Eastern pro personnel director. "Chris Paul has to be out of New Orleans. You figure if New Orleans is looking for young players and cap relief, then the Knicks can't do it because they don't have any assets. Orlando has assets. The Blazers could send them a package of Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum and other guys. Maybe Dallas sends them Rodrigue Beaubois and Caron Butler.
"Do I think he's on the move? Yes. You trade him now and maybe you can get 90 cents on the dollar for him; if he starts complaining and now you're going into February looking to deal him, then New Orleans will get less in return for him. They should look to move him preemptively."
For reading. This is likely my final Weekly Countdown for the summer. Training camp will be here before we know it. Many thanks for a terrific season and we'll be back at it soon.