Category: NBA

Playoff Mode? LeBron James and the Lakers Are Failing to Activate A move West came with dire warnings, but the reality is setting in that a James-led team might miss the playoffs.

LeBron James can’t say that he wasn’t warned.

Lots of us were crowing in the summer, and pretty loudly so, about what would greet the unquestioned Lord of the Eastern Conference if he dared to defect.

Sign with the Los Angeles Lakers if you wish, for the sunnier Hollywood life and all the perks, but brace yourself for the most trying regular season of your career if you decide to go West.

That was the gist of the scouting report — which in retrospect could not have been much more prescient.

On cue: The most daunting and, yes, disappointing season of James’s career is right here, right now, for the biggest name in basketball.

And it appears he will soon have to stomach that it’s going on his ledger in the most permanent ink that he was unable to bring a halt to the longest postseason drought in Lakers history — barring an unforeseen resurrection from a fractured group that sits four and a half games out of a Western Conference playoff berth with 19 games to go.

No matter how much culpability you wish to assign James for what is poised to go down as the Lakers’ franchise-record sixth successive trip to the draft lottery, he’s going to have to own this as much as the front-office tandem of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka as well as the under-fire coach Luke Walton.

The LeBron Way, for years and years, has worked something like this: He inevitably gets most of the credit when his team flourishes; his teammates absorb the bulk of the blame when things unravel. But this is different. This would be the jarring sight of James, fresh off his eighth consecutive finals appearance, actually missing out on the N.B.A. postseason for the first time since his second professional season in 2004-5, when he was just 20.

Even though he can rightly point to his recent groin strain as the biggest standings-altering disruption these Lakers have endured, James surely understands that his maiden campaign in Los Angeles is bound to be recorded in many precincts as a failure to make the playoffs that belongs to him. The Lakers are 4-7 since James returned from the groin injury that sidelined him longer (17 consecutive games) than any previous injury in his 16-year career. They have followed up an unsightly road loss to Atlanta in their final game before the All-Star break with harder-to-rationalize road losses to New Orleans, Memphis and Phoenix since the break.

After Saturday night’s humiliation against a 13-51 Suns team, which dropped the Lakers to 30-33, James’s gang only sports a 1.3-percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

They also have the league’s eighth-toughest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.com.

We’ll never know if the Lakers, who had risen to a heady fourth in the West at 20-14 when James sustained the groin injury in a Christmas Day rout of Golden State, could have kept building upon that promising start with a healthy LeBron. But we most certainly do know that James’s mere return to the lineup, at 34, wasn’t enough to rescue a roster that has been assailed since conception for its lack of perimeter shooting and its defensive deficiencies. Nor has he been able to galvanize a locker room that was deeply destabilized by the Lakers’ trade pursuit of the New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis, which became all-consuming in late January, and has never recovered.

It obviously doesn’t help that James, after missing two key free throws in the final minute Saturday, is also converting a substandard 66.9 percent of his attempts from the line to give his critics more handy folder.

Leaving his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers for the Lakers last July without the accompaniment of a second superstar meant that James, in a far deeper conference, would have little margin for error just to reach the playoffs. When you combine James’s injury absence with the continuing post-Davis malaise and the team’s declining ball movement since Lonzo Ball (ankle) was sidelined six weeks ago, it adds up rather quickly to a margin that is long gone.

The calls for Walton’s dismissal, as they were in January, remain nonsensical. A coaching change now, much like New Orleans’s decision to fire General Manager Dell Demps shortly after the trade deadline, would have no discernible effect on the Lakers’ short-term prospects beyond providing their frustrated fans with a “See? We did something” sacrifice.

The prevailing assumption in league coaching circles remains that Walton will almost certainly be dismissed after the season, followed by the Lakers resuming their trade quest for Davis. But denying Walton an opportunity to at finish out a season wrought with drama and distraction since James’s first dribble in purple and gold would be cruel and needless.

Changes are coming, though. It’s an open secret that a big off-season reset looms in Lakerland. James always knew that his new club would not be in the title mix until his second campaign as a Laker, but his patience predictably faded quickly — one more reason desperation has become so palpable around this team.

Many of us know-it-alls in the news media indeed wrote in our preseason forecasts that the playoffs were no certainty for these Lakers, as constructed, but very few of us were actually willing to outright predict that they would miss out. Reason being: It’s not very smart to bet against LeBron Raymone James.

Yet we’ve suddenly reached that unprecedented juncture where it would be wholly irresponsible to advise you that James can extricate himself from this jam just because he’s LeBron. Whether it’s the lingering effects from his groin injury, or his own unmistakably waning spirit in the face of increasingly bleak odds, James has been lacking the zip you associate with his well-chronicled playoff mode — which he assured us on Feb. 21 had been “activated” earlier than usual.

I briefly stood beside James on the floor in Charlotte, N.C., before the All-Star Game tipped off and bought into the idea a surge was coming when he insisted he was eager to embrace “the challenge” of hauling the Lakers out of their hole.

“And I’m getting healthy, too,” James said that night.

A mere two weeks later, it’s already time to start imagining the N.B.A.’s first spring without King James after watching him for eight straight Junes — and wondering how on Earth he’s going to cope with not being a part of it.

The scripted chaos of Stephen Curry

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Like a seasoned yogi realizing he can deepen his stretch, there is a zen-like quality to Stephen Curry’s exacting hunt for the perfect shot.

On Sunday against the Nets, he continued his streak of making at least five threes in the first seven games of the season, breaking the record George McLoud set in 1995. Curry is on pace to shatter the single-season record in three-pointers made, which he set at 402 in 2015-2016, which shattered his own the previous record of 286 in 2014-15, which shattered his own previous record of 272 in 2012-13.

In the offseason, he told the Wall Street Journal, “I might be delusional, but I feel like I can get better at putting the ball in the basket.” His personal trainer, Brandon Payne, added that “he’s not even close” to his peak. Together, to hear it from Pablo Torre on ESPN’s High Noon, Curry and Payne devised a drill in which Curry had to hit 20 sets of shots, differing in spot and style, from the perimeter, and swish six of 10 free throws. It was called “Perfection.”

Up against the Warriors’ decadence, tried-and-true theories about the professional athlete’s insatiable drive fall away. It’s hard not to wonder why they’re not satisfied when they’re already deemed unbeatable. What an extravagance. And what do they have left to improve?

But the difficulty of Curry’s shots aren’t mere theatre. If he wants to actually shoot the ball, defenses are going to force the world’s best decoy to chase perfection and master chaos.

Consider: Opponents would rather allow Kevin Durant to play one-on-one against mismatches and let Jordan Bell throw down alley-oops than allow Curry to shoot threes. Hell, they’d rather let him get lay ups: the Warriors often free Curry up by running him off screens as he cuts to the rim, usually as a fake-out before he sprints to the corner pocket. Against the Jazz on Oct. 19, Curry was aggressively chased off the three-point line by Dante Exum and hounded on pick and rolls by Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert, whose 7’9 wingspan gave Curry pause. They tugged at his jersey and laid him out with hard screens. Royce O’Neale even gave him a nosebleed. Curry didn’t hit a three until more than halfway through the second quarter, on a uniquely unguardable play illustrated by NBA analyst Jared Dubin.

Curry tried to push the game to devolve into chaos, his high-risk way of forcing the issue: boxing out for offensive rebounds, throwing dangerous outlets, whipping rainbow passes across the floor. But the Jazz’s length, athleticism, and discipline tipped the scales in their balance, up until Jonas Jerebko’s game-winning putback for the Warriors.

As though he took note, Curry had, to put it lightly, more success against the Wizards on Oct. 24, scoring 51 points and drilling 11 threes. The Wizards tried to switch and trap Curry mercilessly, forcing the ball out of his hands. The only problem: he got rid of it by flinging it into the basket.

READ MORE: https://www.sbnation.com/2018/10/31/18047242/stephen-curry-highlights-golden-state-warriors-mvp

N.B.A. Power Brokers Gather, With No Men Allowed

LAS VEGAS — As the sun set on another day at the N.B.A. Summer League this month, a group of 60-odd power brokers gathered at an upscale restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. They were among the league’s elite: executives who help engineer blockbuster trades, salary-cap gurus who devise contracts and scouts who identify prospects.

They sipped wine, nibbled hors d’oeuvres and made conversation; perhaps an unremarkable scene except for one thing: They were all women.

nba women

“This is the first time, to our knowledge, that this has ever happened,” said Liliahn Majeed, the N.B.A.’s vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Long known for its progressive approach toward social issues, the N.B.A. has emerged as an industry leader among men’s professional sports leagues when it comes to hiring and promoting women. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, recently released a study that found that the N.B.A. had the highest percentage of women working at the league office and with individual teams, outpacing the N.F.L. and Major League Baseball. Women hold 31.6 percent of team management positions in the N.B.A., according to the study.

SOURCE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/24/sports/nba-women-hiring

Michele Roberts on N.B.A. Competitive Imbalance: Don’t Blame the Players

Michele Roberts has heard the complaints about the N.B.A.’s best team, the Golden State Warriors, signing an All-Star. She has heard the whining about the league’s best player, LeBron James, moving westward in the first week of free agency. She has seen fans and pundits proclaim the league isn’t competitive enough, and has watched the blame for that land on the doorstep of the National Basketball Players Association and its decision three years ago to reject a league proposal to prevent the limit on player salaries from rising faster than ever before.

After keeping quiet for a week, Roberts, executive director of the players’ union, fired back over the weekend. In a series of emails, she rejected the idea of blaming the players’ decision on the issue known as cap smoothing as nonsense. General managers and coaches may want to blame the players for their teams not being good enough to contend for a championship, she said, but they have no one to blame but themselves.

“Frankly, I have been amused by the chatter suggesting that smoothing — or more accurately the failure to smooth — has now become some folks’ boogeyman de jure,” Roberts said in an email. “While we haven’t yet blamed it for the assassination of MLK, some are now suggesting that it is responsible for all that is presumably wrong with today’s NBA.”

“Needless to say, I beg to differ.”

First, for those not fluent in the N.B.A.’s collective bargaining agreement, a bit of background is in order.

In October 2014, the N.B.A. signed a new television agreement that nearly tripled the amount the league received annually for its national television rights, to $2.66 billion from $930 million, beginning in 2016. The salary cap, which limits the amount each team can spend on players, is tied directly to league revenue. So, in 2016, the first year under the new agreement, the salary cap increased by $24 million, to $94 million, about the same amount it had risen the previous 11 years combined.

The N.B.A. knew this was going to happen, and executives believed a gradual increase of the salary cap was preferable. So the league in 2014 proposed artificially depressing the salary cap for the 2016-17 season. Instead of a sudden rise in the cap, the league offered to provide the players with a lump-sum check that they could divide themselves. That way, teams would not end up signing players to inflated contracts merely because those players had the good fortune of becoming free agents in the summer of 2016.

boogie

“Under the concept we discussed, the total salaries paid to players in the aggregate each season would not have changed, but smoothing would have allowed for steadier, incremental Cap increases, instead of a one-year spike,” an N.B.A. spokesman, Mike Bass, wrote in an email.

In February 2015, union representatives from each team unanimously rejected the N.B.A.’s proposal. Roberts said two economists retained by the union concluded players would be worse off under the plan. It has long been accepted wisdom among sports unions that getting every player the highest possible salary is very good for all players.

So, in the summer of 2016, unspectacular players such as Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ian Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov all signed contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. Those deals have proven to be poor investments for their teams. With two years left on their contracts, Noah and Deng are all but out of the league, and Mahinmi and Mozgov are little-used substitutes receiving starter money.

During that same summer, the Golden State Warriors — just off a Game 7 upset loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals — had enough salary cap space to sign free agent Kevin Durant, and enough space the summer after to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Without the salary cap spike, that would have been impossible unless all three took significant salary cuts.

Flash forward to last week, when the Warriors, fresh off their third championship in four seasons, signed the All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, and James decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers. With the smoothing issue once again at the center of the debate over how the N.B.A. became so lopsided, Roberts decided she had heard enough.

Agreeing to artificially lower the salary cap “offends our core,” Roberts wrote. “It would be quite counterintuitive for the union to ever agree to artificially lower, as opposed to raise, the salary cap. If we ever were to do so, there would have to be a damn good reason, inarguable and uncontroverted. There was no such assurance in place at that time.”

She called the concept fundamentally unfair to players. Many of them had been preparing for the expected spike well before the television deal was signed by agreeing to contracts that allowed them to become free agents in 2016.

Also, Roberts explained, instead of artificially depressing the salary cap, the league could have proposed advancing television money into 2015 and increasing spending. But it didn’t want to “in part because teams weren’t expecting an early Cap increase,” Roberts wrote.

“Just the same way that they shouldn’t be faulted for seeking to meet teams’ expectations,” she added, “folks should recognize how important we felt it was to meet the reciprocal expectations felt by the players.”

She dismissed the idea that the 2016 spike had caused a soft market this year. “We opened free agency with 9 teams that had significant Cap room, in excess of $10 million each,” she wrote. “Frankly, before the spike, that’s about as healthy of a start as we’ve ever had.”

Roberts believes the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Lakers will all challenge the Warriors, and the young Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, as well as “a host of other teams are not conceding a damn thing this season.” There have always been dominant teams in the N.B.A. — as there have been in baseball, she pointed out, wh

cap — and they come in cycles.

“We exist to enhance the lives of the players — to provide them with freedom, opportunity, job security and economic wealth,” she wrote. “We actually believe we can provide it all — all these things, plus competition. The fact that one of the 30 teams, at this moment in time, is having its own moment, doesn’t trouble us or make us question the merits of our system.”

Roberts knows that since 2016 whispers have percolated through the league that she rejected cap smoothing because it was the first major decision of her tenure, which began in 2014, and she wanted to avoid the perception that the league could strong-arm the new union director.

Citing her long and bruising legal career as a trial lawyer for some of the country’s most prestigious law firms, she said she would have embraced smoothing if the union’s independent experts had recommended it.

“I stopped making decisions (especially potentially bad ones) to ‘make a statement’ or ‘prove something’ well before I passed the bar,” she wrote.

With rising television ratings and revenues suggesting the N.B.A. is stronger than ever, Roberts is fairly certain who should shoulder the blame for any team that struggles because they signed bad deals.

“I get that there are folks who believe that some of the contracts executed post the smoothing rejection were too large,” she wrote. “I vehemently disagree as I am sure do the players that negotiated those contracts. However, if that’s the beef folks have, take it up with the GMs that negotiated them. The argument that we gave teams too much money to play with is preposterous.”

The King Has Landed: Making Sense of LeBron James in Purple and Gold

Magic Johnson has delivered on his promise: The Lakers have their superstar. And not just any superstar—possibly the greatest of all time. But there is more that needs to be done to create the dynasty L.A. fans have been waiting for.

It’s been in the works for more than a year. Around the start of the 2017 NBA playoffs, executives and agents across the NBA began to increasingly discuss the possibility of LeBron James taking his talents to the Lakers after hitting free agency in 2018. One year later, it manifested into reality. LeBron James agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers, Klutch Sports announced in a press release on Sunday night.

The announcement was low-key compared to James’s past two decisions, but his plans are now bigger than ever. Los Angeles is home: LeBron owns two mansions in Brentwood and has invested in numerous businesses across the city, and it’s where Klutch Sports, the sports-management agency that represents James, conducts some of its business and where Uninterrupted, James’s sports media and entertainment company, is primarily based. Multiple sources across the industry have confirmed that James’s son, Bronny, has committed to play basketball at private-school powerhouse Sierra Canyon, which was first mentioned by Gary Payton in an interview with Black Sports Online. With his family settled and a long-term contract with his new team, James can begin his transition to his postcareer life. Movie star. Businessman. Team owner. In Los Angeles, LeBron will continue building his empire in his spare time, when he isn’t competing for championships.

N.B.A. Finals: Warriors Stun Cavs With Late Surge to Win Game 3

08cavs4-jumboIn an absolutely stunning defeat, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had led for much of the second half, fell apart in the closing seconds of Game 3 of the N.B.A. finals and ended up losing to the Golden State Warriors, 118-113. Golden State, after an 11-0 run at the end of the game, now has a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

In the final 3 minutes and 10 seconds of Game 3, the Cavaliers saw their chances of an upset in these finals essentially evaporate. The Warriors closed the game on a huge run that was all Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, with Durant’s 26-foot 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining putting the team on top to stay, 114-113.

The run seemed to come out of nowhere, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving dominating for much of the second half, combining for 77 points in the game. The two-man dominance was simply not enough, even with a solid effort from J.R. Smith, thanks to the Warriors’ stacked lineup. Klay Thompson, Durant and Curry combined for 87 points, with Durant leading the way with 31 and Curry improbably tying Kevin Love as the game’s top rebounder with 13.

With the win, the Warriors have now extended their postseason record to 15 consecutive games, and in Friday’s Game 4 have a chance to be the first team to complete a postseason undefeated. Needless to say, no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the N.B.A. finals. But if there is a glimmer of hope for the stunned Cavaliers, no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit until last year when Cleveland did that against Golden State.