NBA Free Agency: Lakers And Nets Improve While Pelicans Take Step Back

Lonzo Ball

The NBA has the best offseason out of all the major sports. The draft and free agency are full of trades, surprises, and WTF moments. It’s the only sport where a simple emoji could spark free agency and trade rumors. The offseason is a reality show that belongs on Bravo.

We’re a few days into free agency and some teams have totally reshaped their roster in both good and bad ways. Here are my biggest takeaways.

Lakers And Nets Somehow Get Better

The rich truly get richer. The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets have the two highest odds to win the championship, and rightfully so. The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Nets have Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Superstars can win you championships. This ain’t rocket science. That being said, the Lakers and Nets both improved their roster over the past week.

Let’s start in Los Angeles, where the Lakers traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a first-round pick for the most polarizing player in the game, Russell Westbrook. With LeBron and AD choosing to load manage throughout the regular season, Westbrook and his insane motor will be able to carry the load on nights where the top stars sit out. LeBron might need to talk with Russ about how he needs to perform in the playoffs, but Westbrook’s talent will be necessary if the Lakers want to reach the NBA Finals.

Being a championship contender means attracting ring chasers or guys who want short-term “prove it” deals to cash in next offseason somewhere else. The Lakers added Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and Kent Bazemore. How they were able to sign Monk to a minimum is beyond me.

Across the country, the Nets added crucial pieces of their own. First, they drafted Cam Thomas from LSU, a walking bucket to serve as “Kyrie Insurance.” Despite losing Jeff Green and Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets re-signed Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown to one-year deals. Brooklyn also signed Paddy Mills, who can still light it up in big moments. Expect the Nets to add more pieces through trades and the buyout market this season.

The Pelicans Failed Zion Williamson Once Again

The Pelicans front office is in the middle of writing a novel titled “How to Lose Your Franchise Superstar.” Seriously, what in the world is going on in New Orleans? I applauded the David Griffin hire. Truth be told, I wanted the New York Knicks to hire Griffin to run the team. I’m glad that never came to fruition.

The Pelicans entered this offseason with two major decisions looming: finding a new coach and re-signing Lonzo Ball. Firing Stan Van Gundy was the right decision, but Griffin should have never hired him in the first place. I like Stan as a commentator, but hiring him to coach was basketball malpractice.

Then, the Pelicans completed a sign-and-trade with Ball that sent the 23-year-old to the Bulls in exchange for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and a second-round pick. This comes a week after trading Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, and two firsts (one top-10 protected pick via the Lakers in 2022) for Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th and 51st pick in last week’s draft. To top it all off, the Pelicans acquired Devonte Graham in a sign-and-trade for a 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick. Graham signed a four-year, $47 million contract. Was any other team willing to pay $47 million for Graham?

How do any of these moves help Zion? Spoiler alert – they don’t. It’s not an overreaction to say that Zion could pass on signing the rookie extension with the Pelicans and leave in free agency. That’s how badly the Pelicans have botched his first two years in the NBA.

Knicks Offseason Starting To Make Sense

It wouldn’t be an NBA article if I didn’t talk about my team, the Knicks. As usual, the Knicks offseason has been a roller coaster of emotions. Let’s start with Day 1, where many fans including myself were puzzled with their first four moves. On Day 1, the Knicks signed:

  • Nerlens Noel – 3 years, $32 million
  • Alec Burks – 3 years, $30 million
  • Derrick Rose – 3 years, $43 million
  • Evan Fournier – 4 years, $78 million

Without knowing any of the guarantees and options, all of these moves left me confused.

This was not about the players. I love Noel, Rose, and Burks. I can defend overpaying for Fournier in today’s NBA. However, who were the Knicks bidding against for these players? Who was going to pay Noel over $30 million? The same goes for Burks and Rose. It reminded me of the time the Knicks outbid themselves by almost $20 million for Tim Hardaway Jr. Why not sign these guys to 1-and-1 deals or even 2-year deals to keep flexibility for the future? I like Noel and Burks, but it’s fairly easy to find defensive-minded big men and microwave scorers off the bench.

After a day, details started to come out about the contracts. The Knicks were only on the hook for 2 or 3 years because the last years of each deal are a team option. I still wasn’t thrilled with the contracts, but my outlook started to become more positive.

Then, the Knicks signed Kemba Walker, who was bought out by the Thunder. The number is 2 years, $8-9 million. This is a great flyer for a point guard that’s averaged over 19 ppg since 2015. Is he an injury risk? Sure. But Kemba and Rose are the two best point guards the Knicks have had in over 15 years. Kemba is a low-risk, high-reward point guard. It’s a huge upgrade, and that can’t be overstated.

Finally, Julius Randle signed a team-friendly 4 year, $117 million extension. Randle could have bet on himself, played out his option, and signed a max extension worth more than $200 million next year. However, Randle wanted to give the Knicks flexibility to bring in another star.

The Knicks weren’t going to get the franchise-altering superstar this offseason. However, the culture continues to improve. The team now has young assets, draft picks, and tradeable contracts that could bring in a superstar within the next two years. That’s a win. I feel much better about the Knicks offseason this morning than I did on Monday night.

Quick Hitters

  • The Chicago Bulls are trying to become a playoff team. So far, they’ve added Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and DeMar Derozan in addition to Nikola Vucevic, who they aquired at last season’s trade dealine. With Zach Lavine as the centerpiece, the Bulls should make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
  • The Miami Heat might have soldified themselves as the third best team in the East. The Heat traded for Kyle Lowry, re-signed Duncan Robinson and Victor Oladipo, and signed PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris. The Heat are going to be insufferable with the refs, but they’ll also fight the other team on any given night.
  • Do the Celtics know free agency started this past Monday night?

What is your biggest takeaway from the start of NBA free agency? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Kobe Bryant: His Mamba Mentality meant much more than his NBA career

Kobe Bryant killed Helicopter crash Gianna Gigi Bryant

Kobe Bryant. Gone too soon.

Kobe Bryant’s death hurt.

Yesterday was heavy. Just burdened with sorrow and grief. Sleep was far and few between. I found myself completely heartbroken for a man that I only met a couple of times. If Kobe Bryan’s death hurt me this much, I can’t imagine what each family is going through.

To the Bryant, Altobelli, Mauser, Chester and Zobayan families, we are all so sorry for your loss. Our prayers are with you in this horrible time.

Why did Kobe’s death hit so hard?

Is the loss of Kobe Bryant limited to basketball fans? Of course not! Yes, Kobe had the rings, the MVPs and all of the highlights. Watching him play on the court was something else. But, his legend surpasses his five rings and 81-point game.

His impact on the game of basketball, a city, and the world is now just being fully realized. It’s not the dunks, and-ones or championships that I remember most. Because I gained more from his interviews and wisdom in his later years than I did from watching him play. Kobe’s game was brilliant, but his mentality was everything.

It’s that Mamba Mentality

A phrase synonymous with Kobe, meaning unwavering commitment and dedication. Attacking your goals with relentless passion, the Mamba Mentality was beyond what most of us believe capable. He took what Michael Jordan did and took it to the next level. Showing us what greatness is on the court is one thing. However, Kobe Bryant taught us how to achieve it. In his Oscar-winning, animated short “Dear Basketball”, we learned that his mentality was fueled by love.

Although some criticized Kobe Bryant for his attitude towards teammates and their effort, hindsight shows us that was love. Tough love, yes. But love nonetheless. Kobe wanted everyone to dedicate themselves to the game like he did. Because he loved basketball with everything that he was. He left everything on the court, regardless of practice or game. And he couldn’t imagine that anyone else didn’t have that love.

But he also loved his teammates, his friends, his rivals. Living by example, Kobe showed players how to do it. Through his mentality, they learned to continue to strive, push, learn, grow and struggle to greatness. He pushed good players to be great and great players to be legends.

He did everything to the best of his ability. We know this because the stats, the accolades and the accomplishments show that. Kobe put himself in the discussion as the best basketball player of all time. Ultimately, his basketball life impacted the world. He was the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Yet somehow, he will be remembered for so much more. His life as a father and husband defined his life more than 20 years in the NBA.

Kobe Bryant the father and husband

Like in basketball, Kobe Bryant led by example as a father. His love and tenderness warmed out heart. We all saw it with the way he acted with his family. He completely dedicated himself to them. The wisdom he imparted to us fathers was well beyond his years.

Recall that we were ready for Kobe Bryant the basketball player to show up as the father. We were ready for toughness, grit, and pain. Expecting him to be hard, demanding, and grinding on his kids, he surprised us. Instead, he encouraged curiosity and tried to pique his child’s interests. Again, just like in basketball, he went further than being great because he helped us be great. Kobe modeled hard work, dedication and an ever-growing understanding of children’s needs.

The Black Mamba was fierce, deadly, but also loving

During his legendary career, we only knew Kobe Bryant as the Black Mamba. Deadly. Fierce. He could break opponents’ wills at any moment and strike with venom. Every player feared the Mamba.

But, underneath the deadliest snake in the world’s skin was a giant heart of gold. Hidden beyond the leathery exterior, we know his heart and soul were filled with love and compassion.

Kobe Bryant’s massive impact on my life

There have been three athletes in my lifetime that impacted my life in major ways:

  • Michael Jordan,
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Steph Curry

However, none was biggest than Kobe Bean Bryant. 

MJ made me love basketball and believe I could fly and do superhuman things. Steph Curry helped me articulate my redefinition of manhood and how much character and personal boundaries impact success.

But Kobe, he made me change my allegiance. I grew up a Michael Jordan and Bulls fan. It was MJ all the way. No Lakers, all Bulls. Then, the team broke up and my basketball heart was broken. Later, in college, I watched the episode of Beyond the Glory about Kobe Bryant. Instantly, I related to his story and his life. Both Kobe and the Lakers stole my heart. And it hasn’t wavered since. I even wrote an open letter to Kobe when he retired. 

https://unafraidshow.com/open-letter-to-kobe-bean-bryant/

My only regrets in life are when I didn’t live with the Mamba Mentality.

  • Giving everything you have until the task is done
  • Extreme dedication to the things you say, you love and want the most
  • Enjoying the hard and arduous process of building greatness
  • All the while, striving to be cultured, educated, and thoughtful about things outside your love to learn new ways to love your love

It’s hard. That level of dedication and love is unreal. And only a few have it within them to outwork everyone, every day. But now, with Kobe’s example before us, we can strive for that Mamba Mentality. Let’s get to work. 

The greatest gifts I can give my kids are:

  • Love of God
  • Love and Dedication to them
  • My example as a husband/father
  • The Mamba Mentality.

He left us abruptly but left us with so much. I’ll miss you and your teachings, Kobe Bean Bryant.

Alex Caruso Is No Joke

Alex Caruso

Close your eyes and picture this. In the NBA, there’s a 6’5″ point guard with high energy and the ability to jump through the roof. This guard is an excellent defender that’s ranked in the top 10 for defensive rating, according to NBA.com. This player simply has a knack for making things happen. Also, this guard is white with a bald spot. Now, if you open your eyes, you’ll see that the player in question is Alex Caruso.

This past Tuesday night’s game was the perfect example of what Caruso can do on the basketball court. Productive and exciting plays seem to happen when Caruso is in the game. Whether it was the through the legs pass to a trailing LeBron James or the emphatic block on Lonzo Ball, Caruso provides the spark off the bench for a Los Angeles Lakers team with title aspirations.

With plays like that, you would think the “Bald Eagle” is the first man off the Lakers bench. However, that assumption is incorrect. On most nights, Caruso seems to make his way into a SportsCenter highlight, and yet Frank Vogel has played Caruso less than 16 minutes in four of the last seven games. In three of those four games, Caruso played less than eight minutes.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis may be the best duo in the league, but statistically, LeBron and Caruso have the best net rating of any two-man combo in the NBA that’s played more than 150 minutes. Davis said that Caruso “always seems to make the right play, and he always tends to be in the right position at the right time all the time.” Vogel continues to tease that Caruso is the “secret weapon,” but why keep a weapon in the holster if it makes your star players better?

Despite his play on the court, Caruso is always going to be associated as “the white dude with the bald spot.” Twitter adores him and continuously calls him “the goat.” Caruso even finished fourth in the fan vote for the All-Star Game, which was higher than Russell Westbrook, Donovan Mitchell, and Devin Booker. I’m guilty of adoring Caruso as well. I started the hashtag, #ACToDunkContest, to get Bald Eagle to All-Star Weekend. Carusomania has spread to other cities as the undrafted guard received “MVP” chants in Golden State despite only averaging 5.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game.

Caruso mirrors The Fast and Furious franchise. It’s fun to joke around about the films’ ridiculous premises and unrealistic action sequences. We laugh at the “Fast and Furious 20: We’re Still Fast And We’re Still Furious” jokes. Despite its flaws, the Fast franchise is one of the 10 highest-grossing movie franchises of all time. The films are high octane thrill rides that are enjoyable from start to finish. Simply put, they’re good movies.

Caruso may be the butt of a few jokes, but Caruso is the farthest thing from a joke. Like the Fast saga, Caruso is energetic, fun to watch, and downright good. At the end of the day, Caruso will get a chance to shine in the playoffs and he’ll have the opportunity to be an integral reason for a few Laker wins. It’s all fun and games for now, but if Caruso hoists the NBA Title in June, he’ll have the last laugh.

Thoughts on Alex Caruso? Leave your remarks in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Farewell to Kobe Bryant – The Black Mamba

Kobe Bryant Black Mamba

On Saturday night, NBA fans were abuzz that LeBron James was only 18 points away from eclipsing Kobe Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It was truly poetic that James, now a Los Angeles Laker would surpass one of the all-time greatest Lakers, Kobe Bryant, in Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia.  King James and the Black Mamba gave basketball fans a piece of NBA history to be remembered for years to come. In a post-game interview, James gave accounts of his interactions with Bryant over the years and what it meant to him to beat his record.  

Never could anyone have imagined that the very next day Kobe Bryant would no longer be with us.  Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others tragically perished when his private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California on Sunday. News of this accident hit hard sending shock waves that vibrated world-wide. His death hit particularly hard as I am like many an avid basketball fan who grew up watching and playing basketball during Bryant’s ascension into NBA greatness. 

I am just old enough to remember Michael Jordan hitting “the shot” in game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals and his subsequent retirement. Even though Jordan was no longer playing, everyone, including myself, still wanted to “be like Mike”. I watched Kobe Bryant’s attempt to fill the void that Jordan left as he became the personification of what it meant to “be like Mike.” Bryant demonstrated extreme excellence on the court and showed us the way through his “Mamba Mentality”. With five NBA Championships, Kobe Bryant got pretty-close to “being like Mike.”

In his quest for greatness, he became Kobe Bryant – the Black Mamba and an inspiration to us all. Bryant showed us how to be relentless in our pursuits and defined the meaning of perseverance and hard work. He showed us how to be comfortable walking away from doing what you love when he scored 60 points in his last game. Soon after, he showed us not to be afraid to strive for excellence in other arenas when he made history as the first African American to win the Oscar for best animated short for “Dear Basketball”. 

Bryant proved that the Mamba Mentality was applicable in all facets of life and that he was so much more than an athlete.  He was a living legend and an inspiration. It is for these reasons that his death has had a profound effect on so many people, including those like myself who never had an opportunity to meet him. 

As the news of his untimely death spread many of Bryant’s former teammates, former competitors, friends, and mentees began sharing stories of the NBA legend. Allen Iverson shared a story about Bryant during their first year in the league. Iverson stated that he was in L.A. for the first time and Bryant invited him to dinner. Bryant asked Iverson what was he doing after dinner and Iverson replied going to the club while Bryant said he was going to the gym.  There Bryant was already showing glimpses of the Mamba Mentality. 

After, reading Iverson’s statement I began thinking about one of the most exciting NBA Finals of my lifetime, the 2001 NBA Finals. In that series, the Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers. I saw one of my hometown heroes, Allen Iverson, go against one of the best duos in all of sports -Shaq and Kobe. Similarly, Michael Jordan issued a statement stating that Bryant was like a little brother to him. After reading Jordan’s statement, I thought of the last matchup between Bryant and Jordan where Bryant dropped 55 points on Jordan who was then with Washington Wizards.

On Monday, LeBron James issued a heartfelt statement regarding Kobe Bryant’s passing. He stated that he had spoken to Bryant early Sunday morning before leaving Philadelphia. He also vowed to put the Laker’s legacy on his back. Upon reading James’ statement, I thought of the iconic photo of King James and the Black Mamba in Bryant’s final All-Star Game. They were both doing what they love – playing basketball.

In the midst of all these memories, I realized how lucky this generation of basketball fans have been to be able to witness and recall the greatness of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. These men are NBA legends and are all the GOAT in their own right. 

In Bryant’s second act off the court, he was on a quest to be a great storyteller. Bryant founded a multimedia production company, Granite Studio. The company was to focus on creating content marrying sports with the themes of fantasy and storytelling. Bryant was building Granite Studios from the ground up starting with books. Bryant was certainly on his way to great success in the arena as well.  Although Bryant’s second career was tragically cut short, he gave us perhaps his most profound story and lesson on Sunday. That is that the next second of life is not promised and the importance of showing your love and appreciation for your loved ones every day.

Does Anthony Davis Get a Pass for Making Lakers Super Team w/ LeBron?

Anthony Davis joining the Lakers to make a super team

More than any other major sport, NBA players are judged almost exclusively by their ability to win an NBA championship. While no one (okay very few people) criticizes Mike Trout for not winning a World Series, NBA fans seem only to care about a superstar’s ability to lead his team to an NBA championship. Players like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul constantly have their greatness questioned. Yet, we don’t hear that talk about Anthony Davis. The oxymoron is that the same fans typically don’t like it when players form join teams that already feature superstars to form super teams, in an effort to make winning that championship easier. Kevin Durant is perhaps the most notable recent example of a player who was victimized for not winning a championship and then villainized for joining the Warriors in an attempt to do just that.

It’s a cruel, somewhat unforgiving world for these star players, and no one seems to be immune to it.

Except, for some reason, former Pelicans center Anthony Davis.

Now with the Lakers, Davis managed to avoid the heaps of criticism that followed Durant, Lebron, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and numerous other superstars who were first criticized for not winning – and then again criticized for how they attempted to win – by joining an NBA super team.

That’s not to say Davis doesn’t have his critics, particularly from the New Orleans faithful who weren’t too happy to see him demand a trade and sit out last season after six and a half seasons with the team. They’ll survive, particularly now that they have the rights to Zion Williamson and a haul of talent from the Lakers, including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a boatload of first round draft picks coming their way.

Why Doesn’t Anthony Davis Get Criticized?

Still, it does make you wonder why Anthony Davis has managed, by and large, to avoid this kind of scrutiny. Is he not on the level that LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant are? Does this kind of criticism not apply to post players, only to guards and forwards? Does he get a pass because he played in New Orleans? Are people actually mad, we just aren’t hearing as much about it?

Hard to say.

For what it’s worth, I think judging players by how many championships they win is disingenuous. Robert Horry is not ten times the player that Karl Malone or Charles Barkley was. Steve Kerr has more championships as a player than Steph Curry, but that doesn’t mean anything.

However, the NBA is the sport where one player can most impact a team. A truly elite NBA player has a bigger impact on a single team than anyone in a baseball, hockey or soccer game, and arguably more than any football player, although an elite quarterback can sometimes make-or-break an entire team.

Therefore, elite players who can’t win championships draw that criticism, whether it is fair or not. They’ll say that “Jordan did it” (he didn’t – he had HOFers Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman alongside him) or they’ll say “Kobe did it” (kinda – but he struggled without Shaq and needed Pau Gasol) but once a player decides to join a team with another superstar or two, they are a pariah that is destroying the parity in the game and hurting the small-market teams who can’t go out and collect multiple superstars.

Of course, destroyer of super teams Kawhi Leonard may have proven that one doesn’t need a super team to win it all.

NBA Super Teams are the norm

So I guess the question becomes, do we care that Anthony Davis joined the Lakers? If so, why? If not – why has he been exempt from that criticism in the past?

One thing is for sure, even with Antony Davis and Lebron James, the Lakers are going to have a hard time getting through the still-stacked Western Conference in 2019, even if the Warriors are without Durant and Klay Thompson next season.

NBA: Durant and Thompson Injuries Have Impacted the Entire NBA

NBA Free Agency goes crazy after Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson injuries

Aside from the NBA-ABA merger, there has not been a more significant seismic shift in the landscape of the league than the fallout from the 2019 NBA Finals. The pending free agency destinations of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have been discussed all season. Now, both are heading into free agency injured. Both will miss either all or most of next season with an Achilles and ACL respectively. Over half the league has to tear up their offseason plans for the NBA Draft and free agency and formulate new ones. Not even the breakup of the Michael Jordan led 1998 Bulls created this much drama.

2019 NBA Free Agency Questions Center Around Durant and Thompson Injuries

The Knicks, Nets, Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, 76ers, and Pelicans. all planned on at least making a pitch to Durant and Thompson. Now, Any team attempts to sign them knows it cost close to $40M in salary for a guy who won’t play (much) in 2019-20. All superstar free agents want to be paired with another superstar. How many teams and other superstars will be willing to put any championship aspirations or salary cap space on hold for another year?

Every decision by every front office from the Knicks to the Lakers, and on up to Warriors will be based upon where Durant and Thompson sign. And, every decision by all the top free agents not named Kawhi Leonard will be contingent upon the KD and Klay.

  • What do the Houston Rockets and GM Daryl Morey do? Do they keep the team together now that the Warriors are seemingly out of the way?
  • The Lakers seemingly can no longer be in the market for Thompson and Durant. LeBron is getting old and they must capitalize on the window this season with the Warriors crippled.
  • Can the Knicks or Nets land Kyrie Irving with KD despite his injury?
  • Did the Raptors convince Kawhi Leonard to stay?
  • Have Kyrie Irving’s viable options decreased because Durant is not healthy?
  • Can the Warriors convince KD and Klay to stay?

LeBron James is Winning Big Despite not Being in the NBA Playoffs

lebron james ipromise school springhill entertainment

For the first time since 2005, NBA fans are witnessing an NBA post-season without LeBron James. James started a new NBA chapter with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer. Lakers fans hoped that Lebron James would fill the void left by Kobe Bryant and lift the franchise to its rightful place as an NBA powerhouse. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet. In want many have characterized as a failed season, King James has managed to remain on top with his endeavors off the court. James has always held that he was about more than basketball. He is living up to that showing the world that he is “More Than an Athlete.” James and his business partner Maverick Carter made the Hollywood Reporter’s 50 Agents of Change Empowering Diverse Voices in Hollywood list. LeBron James is winning on so many levels.

The Hollywood Reporter praised James and Carter for their work on the Shut-Up and Dribble three-part docu-series that earned an NAACP Image Award nomination. The Hollywood Reporter also acknowledged James and Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment company for partnering with Octavia Spencer to produce a series about Madame C.J. Walker. With moves like these, King James has managed to remain one of the most talked about NBA players during the post-season despite not making the playoffs. This is due to the fact that King James keeps landing major wins off the court!

First Win- LeBron James’ I Promise School Exceeded Expectations

Last summer, LeBron James opened the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. James opened the school to help at-risk children overcome many of the same obstacles he faced at their age. Last month, it was reported that the school is off to a great start. The students have outpaced seventy percent of other students districtwide and have scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms.

King James has much to be proud of. He deserves to be in headlines for this accomplishment. James even earned accolades from former President Obama.

King James is truly “More Than an Athlete” as he continues to demonstrate that he is about more than just basketball.

Second Win – James’ Investment in Liverpool FC is Paying Dividends

In 2011, James made a $6.5 million investment in Liverpool FC earning him a two percent stake in the club. As the club’s value has contiued to grow so has the value of James’ stake. In 2018, James’ investment was valued at apporximatley $32 million. It was recenty reported that James’ stake as grown to apporixmatley $35 million currently. Wow, what a win while sitting out this NBA post-season!

Third Win – James’ Hit HBO Series “The Shop” is the Platform Black Excellence Has Always Needed

Last summer, LeBron James and Maverick Carter debuted the HBO Series “The Shop.” The Shop is totally ingenious. The show highlights the role of barbershops and beauty salons in black culture. Barbershops and beauty salons are more than a place where African-Americans go to get a cut or a style. They are where African- Americans have traditionally come together to discuss sports, politics, or to simply hang out and play cards or chess. In Ice Cube’s 2002 film “The Barbershop,” Cedric the Entertainer’s character, Eddie, likened the barbershop to a country club for black people.

On The Shop, various athletes, musicians, actors, comedians, and others in the entertainment industry gather in a barbershop. Some get a cut while others sit and engage in stimulating conversation. The show is the perfect forum for black excellence to address political and social issues and to tell their side of stories free from unfounded criticisms.

In the latest episode, Seth Rogen, Pharrell Williams, Lonzo Ball, Don Cheadle, and a few others gathered at the shop. James shared his thoughts on Magic Johnson’s departure from the Lakers. Lonzo Ball discussed his lawsuit against family friend and co-founder of Big Baller Brand, Alan Foster. Foster alledgely stole $1.5 million from Ball. James and Ball were both able to tell their stories free from mainstream media criticism. They were able to give their thoughts and points of view without any spin being put on it. “The Shop” is a major win for sports, entertainment, and black culture.

King James has a lot to Smile About Despite not Making it to the Playoffs

LeBron James is definitely winning off the court. James is experiencing much success with the I Promise School and his ventures in Hollywood. It is no wonder that James is still one of the most talked about NBA players despite not making it to the playoffs.

Two Situations Can Be Made Right If the Lakers Hire Arizona’s Sean Miller

With the defection of Magic Johnson, and the inability to secure either Monty Williams or Ty Lue to replace Luke Walton as head coach, the Los Angeles Lakers are currently mired in a public relations catastrophe. The only figure in all of basketball that may be feeling more pressure than the Lakers at this particular moment in time is University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller. I’m here to make the argument that the Lakers and Sean Miller might just be the solution to each other’s problems.

The Lakers, while always relevant thanks to a rich, championship-filled history, haven’t been competitive since April 12, 2013- the night Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon trying to drive past Golden State’s Harrison Barnes. That injury marked the official end of the Lakers’ decade-plus as a championship contender and sent them into the spiral that the team currently finds itself in.

The Lakers’ Long Road to the Bottom

Here’s a brief refresher on exactly how abrupt and eventful the Lakers’ demise has been:

  • In the 2013-14 season, former NBA MVP’s Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash combined to appear in 21 games for the last-place Lakers, and the team finished in last place in the Pacific Division.
  • In 2014-15, the Lakers replaced the departed Mike D’Antoni with Byron Scott and had a first-round draft pick for the first time since 2009. They used that pick on Julius Randle, who promptly broke his leg and missed his entire rookie season. They finished last in the Pacific Division for the second consecutive season.
  • 2015-16 was the Lakers’ worst in franchise history. In a season that became Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour, the team won one road game in the 2016 half of the season and fired Byron Scott in favor of bringing Luke Walton over from the Warriors.
  • Eight of the Lakers primary contributors in 2016-17 were 25 years old or younger, including four of their own first round picks. They replaced part-owner Jim Buss and longtime GM Mitch Kupchak with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka and finished 14th in the Western Conference.
  • In 2017-18, the Lakers started their rebuild under Magic and Pelinka by stockpiling draft picks and shipping former #2 overall pick De’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn in exchange for a pick they’d use on Kyle Kuzma, and Brook Lopez’ expiring contract. They used the #2 overall pick on UCLA PG Lonzo Ball, whose father Lavar’s unorthodox and shameless promotion of his sons’ basketball skills had fostered an extracurricular sports media circus. They improved drastically on the court, but still finished three spots out of the playoff hunt.
  • LeBron James sends shockwaves through the sports world by deciding to write his final basketball chapter in the City of Angels. Instead of plugging LeBron into the young, improving core of the previous season, the Lakers commence signing a cast of NBA misfits in Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley. Everybody is injured all the time. To make matters worse, players that the Lakers moved on from, like Julius Randle, Thomas Bryant and Brook Lopez, all had fantastic seasons elsewhere. The Lakers finish above .500 when LeBron plays, and go 9-18 without him. During the season, LaVar Ball, father of Lonzo Ball, goes on Phoenix radio stations with the expectation that his son will be dealt to the Suns and openly berates head coach Luke Walton. The team parts ways with Walton, and he’s subsequently accused of sexual assault via a civil lawsuit. Magic Johnson quits his post as the team’s executive vice president in spectacularly odd fashion. The team passes on offering Monty Williams their head coaching position in favor of Ty Lue, who comes away from the three-year contract offer unimpressed, leaving the Lakers without a head coach.

The Lakers wouldn’t be Hollywood’s favorite team without a little bit of drama, but the events of the last six years have jumped the proverbial shark and left the franchise reeling. It’s because this franchise has an appetite for the spotlight, and the stomach for controversy, that I believe the right head coach for them is just 500 miles away, somehow withstanding his own personal tornado of national scorn and scrutiny.

The Ballad of Sean Miller

Sean Miller came to Tucson from Xavier in 2009, hoping to fill the enormous shoes of legendary University of Arizona Lute Olson. By his second year on campus, Miller had made the Wildcats into a 30-win team, knocking off #1 Duke in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament. Heading into his fourth year on campus, he had secured two top-20 prospects in Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. The following season, Miller landed three of Rivals.com‘s top-23 players, and returned to the Sweet Sixteen.

The trend of dominating the Pac-12, both on the court and in recruiting, has become a regular occurrence for Miller. In his tenure at Arizona, he’s had 10 players selected in the NBA Draft, signed 18 five-star recruits, made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, and won the Pac-12 conference regular season championship five times.

Most impressively, despite being regularly name-dropped in the mind-numbingly stupid NCAA pay-for-play criminal scandal, he’s managed to sign what might be his best recruiting class yet, featuring Rivals’ #4-ranked point guard (Nico Mannion), #3-ranked shooting guard (Josh Green), #15-ranked small forward (Terry Armstrong), and #8-ranked power forward (Zeke Nnaji).

For the last 15 months, Sean Miller has been caught up, fairly or unfairly, in the ongoing NCAA pay-for-play scandal that has seen several coaches and assistants investigated and/or fired for their involvement in funneling cash to recruits or their family members. The goal of those involved was to use cash payments to influence both the athletes’ school decisions, as well as who they select as financial representatives once they made a move toward the NBA. It doesn’t look great for Sean Miller that his long-time assistant, Book Richardson, has pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery for taking money from aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins. It doesn’t look good for Miller that Book Richardson admitted to paying family members of Arizona players and prospects out of his own salary and savings on a Federal wiretap. It definitely doesn’t look good for Sean Miller that those same wiretaps seem to indicate that Book Richardson had no problem painting Deandre Ayton as being one of the players Arizona paid, and that Sean Miller was handling those payments himself. It doesn’t bode well for those who wish to claim that Sean Miller runs a tight, clean ship, that another of his assistants, Mark Phelps, was recently fired for completely separate NCAA violations, reportedly involving the transcripts of one-time Arizona commit and current UCLA forward Shareef O’Neal.

So is Sean Miller Dirty, or Not?

Sean Miller might very well be guilty of funneling cash to high profile recruits like Deandre Ayton. If we’re honest, he looks guilty. The man looks like he stepped right out of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, having helped Al Capone build and expand his prohibition-era bootlegging empire. It’s not enough, however, to simply look guilty. The truth is, there isn’t one shred of prosecutable evidence that Miller is anything more than a victim of an assistant’s desperate attempt to keep up appearances and prove he could meet the program’s high standards without getting his hands dirty, and an over-zealous media, hungry for the high-profile pound of flesh that this scandal has, thus far, has failed to deliver.

Both ESPN, and Tucson’s hometown newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, have seemingly jumped the gun on attempting to convict Sean Miller over the course of this scandal. Last spring, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reported that Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing payments to Deandre Ayton with Christian Dawkins. ESPN personalities Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale came out strongly in support of Schlabach’s report, despite the fact that the report quickly began to unravel as Sports Illustrated and others pointed out that Schlabach’s dates for the supposed wiretaps that didn’t correspond with the government’s investigation, which caused Schlabach and ESPN to subsequently change the reported wiretap dates in their report multiple times. To make matters worse for ESPN, Christian Dawkins recently joined Miller and Ayton in making on-the-record denials that any conversation on this subject ever occured. Long time Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen reacted to Schlabach’s report by going on Phoenix sports radio and claiming that he spoke with Book Richardson, and that the player Sean Miller was actually caught on wiretaps attempting to pay was Brian Bowen. Hansen later apologized, claiming he had not actually spoken to Book Richardson, but that he believed Miller would either quit or be fired anyway. Miller, in the midst of those media missteps, went on to coach the Wildcats last season anyway.

The Lakers and Sean Miller Need Each Other

So that brings me back around to my original point- Sean Miller needs to be the Los Angeles Lakers’ next head coach. It’d be a new chapter for a franchise that hasn’t won more than 37 games in a season in six seasons, and simultaneously, a fresh start for a successful college coach who’s spent the majority of the last two seasons circumstantially tied to a major scandal. It’s a match, seemingly made in hell, that might just provide heavenly results. You have an NBA franchise consistently wrapped up in self-imposed dubious circumstances and a college coach who has stood tall like a deep-rooted oak tree through a potentially self-imposed, but certainly media-enhanced earthquake. Sean Miller’s time at Arizona has been nothing if not perfect preparation to be the ringmaster in the purple and gold circus. While there might be detractors amongst the spoiled-with-success Laker fanatics due to the fact that Sean Miller hasn’t taken Arizona to a championship during his tenure, much less a Final Four, Miller does have plenty of experience managing top young talent. Plus, Sean Miller is a serious coach- you won’t find any John Wooden-like quotes or inspirational soliloquies attributed to Miller. In the twilight of his career, LeBron James might appreciate Sean Miller’s businesslike, no-frills approach to running a team. Sean Miller also has a history of attracting the top available talent, and no one in the NBA bats an eye if you show up in a free agent’s living room with a promise to overflow their bank account. If Sean Miller really is the bag man that so many people believe he is, then the Lakers would be fools to not take advantage of his recruiting skills in their pursuit to re-emerge as title contenders.

LeBron James Impact Review 2018-2019: The Cleveland Cavaliers Fallout and the Los Angeles Lakers Future

LeBron James Impact Review 2018-2019: The Cleveland Cavaliers Fallout and the Los Angeles Lakers Future

With LeBron James, Four Straight NBA Finals. Without LeBron James, Nothing

The fallout from LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland is massive. After advancing to the NBA Finals four years in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers are at the bottom of the league. It is no secret that the Cleveland Cavaliers have been in turmoil without James. After his departure, their 2018-2019 season has been nothing short of a disappointment. The 2018-2019 Cavaliers lowlights include:

A question remains: Just how different are the Cleveland Cavaliers with and without LeBron?

Strictly Looking at Wins and Losses

After compiling win/loss records from the last 20 seasons, there is a stark difference between the Cavaliers with and without LeBron James. The following two tables illustrate this chasm. In the first table, the Cleveland Cavaliers season are split into different eras to depict LeBron’s impact historically. Then, the second table looks strictly at the overall record of the Cavaliers during James’ NBA career, in seasons with and without him.

RecordWin Percentage
Pre-LeBron (1999-2002)108-22033%
First LeBron (2003-2009)349-22561%
Post LeBron (2010-2013)97-21531%
Second-Coming (2014-2017)211-11764%
Post LeBron II (2018)19-6323%
RecordWin Percentage
w/o LeBron (2003-2018) 116-27829%
w/ LeBron (2003-2018 )560-34262%

Following a look at those records, LeBron’s effect on the Cavalier’s is even larger than expected. In seasons with James on the roster, their win-percentage more than doubled. What other star’s departure can be seen in such a resounding way? Then, looking past regular season records illuminates LeBron’s Hand of Midas in playoff pushes. In 11 seasons with the Cavaliers, he led them to 9 playoff appearances, 5 NBA Finals and 1 NBA title over the prolific Golden State Warriors. With LeBron, the Cavaliers were a team of legend. Without him, they have been nothing but bottom-feeders.

Did the Los Angeles Lakers see the same LeBron bump?

Well, no. Here’s why:

Lack of an Efficient Supporting Cast

However, there are a few reasons to explain this. First off, the players surrounding LeBron James in Los Angeles did not have an efficient season. According to numberFire’s nERD Score, which measures a player’s efficiency and contribution to team wins, only LeBron James and JaVale McGee ranked in the top-100. The next closest was Johnathan Williams, who ranked 144th. The team around him needs further development and building.

LeBron is, in Fact, Human

Granted, LeBron has taken seemingly-untalented teams to the playoffs before. But this year was different. LeBron was plagued with injuries. Perhaps it was all of his extra playoff minutes that caused him to break down. In terms of playoffs, LeBron played the most minutes of any player in the NBA since 2010. Recently, in his four Cavalier seasons from 2014-2018, James played a total of 81 playoff games. He basically played an additional season. To top it all off, he averaged 41.1 minutes per game in those appearances. All of those extra minutes had to contribute to this poor outing.

Because of the nagging groin injury, James played just 55 games. Late in the season, the Lakers and LeBron reached an agreement to limit his minutes, with no more back to back games. Then, when playoff chances were infinitesimal, the team decided to sit James out the final six games of the season. This first year with LeBron was not pretty.

Hope for Lakers Fans To Cling To

Nonetheless, there still is hope of the Los Angeles Lakers return to glory. Obviously, the Lakers still have LeBron James, one of the greatest players of all time. That definitely helps. Even in his injury-riddled season, he still averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. Additionally, the Lakers record with James in the lineup was actually 28-27. Therefore, James still has yet to experience a losing record since his rookie season.

Furthermore, the disappointing season of the Lakers has a few benefits. The first comes with a lottery chance. Their overall record gives them a 2-percent chance to win the first pick and a 9.4-percent chance to win a top-four pick. The lowest spot the Lakers can pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft is spot 14. They have a chance to reload the roster with some young, fresh talent. The 27 games sans-LeBron also gave the other players on the Lakers a chance to develop more. Without LeBron being the focal point of the offense, the rest of the cast could gain vital experience. Magic Johnson also stepped down as team president. His tenure with the Lakers has been a failed dream for a Lakers legend. But, stepping down was the right thing to do and allows a genuine executive to step forth. Last, LeBron’s 2018-2019 campaign gave him rest. In the playoffs, his off-season is essentially extended. 2019-2020 LeBron James can start the season revived.

Rebuilding LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers

At the end of their seasons, both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers are in need of a better team. Fortunately for the Lakers, they have LeBron James for at least three more seasons. Their losing record also granted them a higher chance to hit in the 2019 NBA Draft. Lakers fans can have high hopes for playoffs next season.

On the other hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers are far behind. According to an article early in the NBA season by Scott Davis of Business Insider, the Cavaliers have severe, systemic issues.

“Issues within the organization were only thinly veiled in recent years, even with James on the roster. The Cavs went all-in to build around him, and the aftermath was always going to be ugly. But at least in recent years, the winning masked some issues.”

Building a team around LeBron with big contracts and again veterans was highly criticized. “GM LeBron” was a nickname offered up by many and both the Cavaliers and James were given negative reviews on cap spending. It worked well and didn’t matter as much when LeBron was on the team. Advancing a team to the NBA Finals four years in a row offset the penalties. But, those problems became maximized the second James left. As Davis put it, “Salary-cap relief could finally come in 2020, but that would essentially be the start of the rebuild”.

Last, we all need to reflect on the rarity of this LeBron James/Cavaliers relationship. It is absolutely incredible that one player can impact an entire franchise so significantly. The sudden quick uplifts and sudden drop-offs the Cavaliers experienced were very easy to see. How much credit/blame goes to LeBron or the Cavaliers organization is up for debate. Regardless, this story has been remarkable to witness. From NBA fanatic to a fan of mild interest, LeBron James made the Cleveland Cavaliers interesting. Let’s just hope that we can see an equally compelling storyline in the next two decades.