Posted on: June 13, 2011 6:04 pm

LeBron James: "At the end of the day..."

It would be easy for me to say that LeBron James choked last night in the Miami Heat's 105-95 loss in game six of the NBA Finals. But choke is the wrong word here. To choke, you actually need to make an effort. LeBron completely shied away from the big moment in the fourth quarter. With his team's season on the line, King James sat back and watched as Dallas won their first championship in franchise history.
It was almost as if LeBron was leading a game of hot potato among his teammates. There were multiple times when James caught the ball in crunch time and gave it up without even glancing at the basket. Despite leading his team with 21 points, LeBron underachieved once again. What puzzles me is the fact that we're talking about the same man who dominated earlier in the postseason. Against both Chicago and Boston, James was Miami's closer. He stepped up in the big moment.
Although Dallas was playing excellent defense on the Akron Hammer in the fourth quarter, that alone does not account for LeBron's passivity. James was able to produce in crunch time against Chicago and Boston - two teams who undoubtedly play better defense than the Mavericks. LeBron James has the talent and physical gifts to score against any defense in the league. What happened in this series was 90% mental. King James had no confidence in crunch time during this series. Sure, he missed a few jumpers. Regardless, the supposed "best" player in the NBA should be able to shake off a few bad misses. He should at least be able to stay involved in the game.
Dirk Nowitzki possesses arguably the most unique skill set in the league. It was certainly on display throughout this postseason - just ask the Miami Heat. However, I am not ready to say that Dirk is a "better" player than LeBron. James' combination of size and skills matches if not transcends that of Dirk Nowitzki. We're talking about a man that's 6' 9'', 260, has quicks like Derrick Rose, and can finish like Vince Carter (the Toronto version). This man should have been able to match Nowitzki; he didn't even come close. When the game was on the line, Dirk excelled. LeBron cowered in fear.
The Miami Heat had to take their final exam last night, but King James was absent. LeBron left Cleveland because he felt that he would have a better chance to win championships with another team. Well, he had his first chance. "At the end of the day", the self-proclaimed chosen one still has as many rings as I do.
Next June is a whole year away. Will LeBron be able to handle another year of being the most scrutinized athlete on the planet? He sure couldn't this year.
Category: NBA
Posted on: May 31, 2011 6:56 pm

Dwight Howard Wants To Start His "Own Path"

The Los Angeles Lakers entered this postseason as the favorites to win another title. After being swept by the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers were suddenly "too old" and "too slow". Five-time NBA champion and Laker great Magic Johnson notably said that Lakers owner Jerry Buss needed to "blow this thing up"; in other words, initiate project roster overhaul. There has been speculation that one of Los Angeles' primary desires this offseason will be to trade for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. Howard is signed through the 2013 season, but can opt out after 2012. Los Angeles isn't planning to wait until then.
Conventional wisdom says that the Orlando Magic will follow in the footsteps of the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, trading their superstar rather than watching him walk away in free agency. Certainly a package that centers around 23-year-old center Andrew Bynum would be enticing for Orlando GM Otis Smith. Of course, the Lakers aren't the only team interested in Howard. New Jersey, New York, Chicago are all reportedly intent on pursuing the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Regardless of where he ends up, we know that he's at least going somewhere?...right?
Maybe not. This is what Howard told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday: "I want to start my own path and I want people to follow my path and not just follow somebody else's path. I want to have my own path, and I want to start that here in Orlando. But I can't do it alone. Not only do I need the right teammates, but I need the city behind me. That's the only way it's going to get done. We can change this small city that we have -- this small market that we have -- and we can make it a big market."
It would seem that Dwight wants to stay in Orlando only if Otis Smith can upgrade the roster enough to put them in position to win championships. After losing to the mediocre Atlanta Hawks in the first-round of this year's playoffs, it is clear that this team is far away from championship-caliber.
Smith faces a herculean task. He has indicated that he will not consider trading his five-time All-Star center. A bold move indeed. If he sticks to his plan, Orlando faces two very different possibilities: 1) The roster will be revamped to the extent that Howard feels like he can win a championship where he is; an extension is signed 2) Howard signs with another team in free agency, allowing Orlando to suffer a Cleveland-like fate.
If Smith fails - if he fails to get Howard enough help - it would behoove him to go against his word and make a trade. If he still refuses to trade the Atlanta native, Smith risks the possibility of having his intransigence leave this franchise in the cellar of the Eastern Conference for multiple years in the future.
Of course, all of this speculation can be avoided if Howard starts his "own path" in Orlando. Howard's words may seem candid, but didn't we hear similar words from a certain twenty-six year-old superstar who decided to take his talents to South Beach? The allure of the path to a championship in LA will prove to be too much for the Hollywood personality of Dwight Howard to deny. Enjoy him while you can, Orlando.
Category: NBA
Posted on: May 29, 2011 6:14 pm

Scottie Pippen Say What?!

"Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play in the game. But, I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game".

That seemingly blasphemous statement was uttered by Scottie Pippen a few days ago on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning". Yes, the same Scottie Pippen who won six championships alongside MJ. The same Scottie Pippen who failed to take the Bulls past the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1994 (Pippen's first year without Jordan).
On the surface, Scottie Pippen's words seem ridiculous. Michael Jordan is a six-time champion, a fourteen-time All-Star, a five-time MVP, do I need to continue? He is the consensus greatest player in NBA history.
I think I've made it pretty clear that I am not LeBron's biggest fan. However, unlike most, I see some validity in Scottie Pippen's statement. It's a given that LeBron's pedigree doesn't even compare to that of MJ. But let's not base this comparison solely on championships. Michael Jordan was a better shooter and finisher around the basket. But, what about defense? passing? rebounding? athleticism? Four checks for LeBron. No one - not Michael Jordan, not Oscar Robertson, not Kareem - has ever possessed the same skill set as LeBron James. He can guard every position on the floor, he can play point guard, he can grab rebounds over bigs, he's 6' 8'' 260. Enough said.
MJ was known for his ability to come through in the clutch. Ever since his years with Dean Smith at UNC, Jordan has been trusted in the game's critical moments. Prior to this postseason, it could be said that LeBron James was anti-clutch. Even throughout this regular season, LeBron repeatedly failed to hit shots in crunch time. Over recent weeks, however, James has shown a different side. King James has taken over in close games, leading Miami to key victories.
Although I believe LeBron is a better all-around player than Michael Jordan, he will never be regarded as such until he gets some hardware. He's definitely on the right track. In his first year with his new team, King James is in the finals for the second time in his career. In the coming years, Miami is only going to get better. The big three's chemistry will improve, sure. But, there's another reason why Miami is going to become nearly unstoppable in the future: free agents will take pay-cuts in order to win championships. If the Heat can sign a decent point guard and big man this summer, you can book them for another trip to the finals. And then there's this: in the NBA's new CBA, there will probably be a hard salary cap. The hard cap will limit teams' financial flexibility. Therefore, it will be very difficult to bring multiple premier free agents to the same team (Sorry, New York); a task that Pat Riley completed last summer.
From the looks of it now, LeBron will get his rings. When that happens, this comparison should be revisited. Until then, we can only compare skills on the court. LeBron James is a Magic Johnson-type, only he can score thirty on any given night and defend any player in the league. The same could not be said about MJ.

Category: NBA
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