NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Cavs have glass jaw — We’re not sure what rock-bottom is yet for a team projected to be a solid NBA championship contender if not the favorite, but judging from the somber words of LeBron James, the Cavs are pretty close. He used the word “fragile” to describe the 5-7, underachieving team after a 17-point thumping at home Saturday to the — look out, now — East-leading Raptors. The Cavs were up 18 points and then blew it, which pretty much fits the description of fragile. LeBron was careful not to reveal any signs of cracking himself, because as he correctly suspects, his team will then follow his lead. But all in all, it’s been a disastrous start for the Cavs. They’ve dealt with a bit of everything: surprisingly docile play from James, accusations of ball-hogging from Kyrie Irving, complaining from Kevin Love about his role in the offense and a murmur of discontent in Cleveland about new coach David Blatt and whether the Cavs could waste a season while trying to sort it out. Here’s Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group training a critical eye toward LeBron:
King without a crown – One week after being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, LeBron James has played the biggest role in his team losing four straight.
He’s the best player in the NBA and he hasn’t played like it. If James plays like he is capable of the Cavs don’t have as many questions.
He’s the leader of the team and his actions and discouraging body language are not setting a good example. He has said the right things before and after games, but the words are hollow when James doesn’t follow through when the game starts.
It’s his team. Everything starts and ends with him. In the four-game losing skid, James is averaging 18.5 points, shooting 41 percent (28-68) from the field and 66 percent (12-18) from the free throw line. He also is averaging 5.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers. Those numbers aren’t bad…until you remember we are talking about the game’s most talented player and a four-time MVP.
The Cavs, in spurts, can play well without James. On Wednesday against San Antonio, the team outscored the Spurs 31-30 while James was resting. But few teams can play to that level consistently when the best player is not himself.
The Cavs need more from James and will continue to struggle if he doesn’t pick up his play. When James plays well the Cavs tend to win. When he doesn’t they struggle.
No. 2: Even grudges are big in Texas — Chandler Parsons returned to Houston on Saturday and booed every time he touched the ball. That’s a big switch from a year ago this time when he was a very popular player for the Rockets. As you know, things happened: He took Mark Cuban’s $15 million a season, went to a rival, and when asked about the difference between Dallas and his former city, Parsons described Houston as “dirty.” As they say, don’t mess with Texas. Anyway, it got a bit rough for Parsons, who was whistled for a few key fourth-quarter fouls and was late with a potential game-tying jumper at the buzzer. Parsons hasn’t had a terrific start for the Mavs; he’s a third option (as he was in Houston) and still trying to mesh. Jenny Creech of the Houston Chronicle caught up with Parsons after the loss:
Last week, Mavs owner Mark Cuban joked Parsons would be cheered by the women and booed by the men.
“I told him I knew a few girls who would boo, too,” Parsons said.
But he took it all in stride. Parsons’ focus has nothing to do with fan reaction these days. He is trying to earn his large paycheck on a team with championship aspirations.
Entering Saturday, when he scored only eight points, Parsons was averaging 14.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had a rough start but has grown into his role and is happy.
“I didn’t fit in too quickly,” he said. “I struggled a little bit early, and you are going to have off nights, trying to get used to everybody.
“It’s a different city, different team, different coaching staff, different terminology. It’s all pretty foreign. It’s going to take a little bit, but these guys make it easy and coach (Rick) Carlisle’s system is perfect, I think, for the way I play, and I am happy.”
No. 3: Different gold-bricked roads for Kobe, Dirk — This might have gotten lost in the last few days but there was an interesting exchange of financial philosophies shared by Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, two of the league’s most important players of the last decade. Both have been free agents recently — twice for Dirk — and neither left the only team they’ve ever known. The difference is Kobe has remained among the game’s highest-paid players, to which he has made no apologies for, while Dirk was willing to take a pay cut. This season Kobe is the game’s highest-paid player at $23 million while Dirk is fourth-highest on his team at $7.8 million. Kobe thought it was silly for Dirk to play for such a pittance and took another swipe at the owners and the salary cap system. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com tried to sort it out:
“Did I take a discount? Yeah,” Bryant said after a morning shootaround here, when he discussed his contract more than at any point since signing it.
“Did I take as big a discount as some of you fans would want me to? No.
“Is it a big enough discount to help us be a contender? Yeah.
“So what we try to do is be in a situation where they take care of the player and the player takes care of the organization enough to put us in a championship predicament eventually.”
Bryant almost certainly didn’t mean to use the phrase “championship predicament.” But if it was a Freudian slip, well, it sure was fitting.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stated the obvious about his squad: Nowitzki’s deal made a huge impact in helping shape the roster, giving them the financial flexibility to add the high-profile and, more important, promising young free agent in Chandler Parsons that they had been chasing for so long.
“To me, it’s not about money, it’s about winning,” Cuban said. “Different players have different attitudes.”
Could a player make $24 million in the NBA’s current punitive financial climate (as Bryant does this season) and legitimately say they’re interested in winning?
“Yeah, of course, as long as you can convince everybody else that you need to come play for the minimum,” Cuban said with a laugh.
Cuban has long been poking fun at the Lakers on this topic, once calling them Shaq, Kobe and the “band of merry minimum [-salaried players]” in 2000 during Cuban’s first season as an owner.
Nowitzki echoed Cuban’s point that his deal was about winning, not money.
“I wanted to be on a good team,” Nowitzki said. “I wanted to compete my last couple of years at the highest level. Ever since after the championship, we had a couple of rough years. We missed the playoffs one year, were the eighth seed twice I think, so that was really the main decision. I wanted to play at a high level my last couple years, and it kind of worked out with getting Parsons, with getting Tyson [Chandler] back here. We feel like we’ve got a good group, and hopefully we can make it work.”
Bryant argued that Nowitzki’s deal meant the German forward “wasn’t playing in Los Angeles,” and that difference matters.
After all, the Lakers have a 20-year, $3 billion deal with Time Warner Cable that hinges on ratings. They need Bryant, not only for that, but to justify ticket prices, to keep interest high during lost seasons. His value goes far beyond the court.
Yet the high cost of paying their cash cow what he legitimately might be worth ultimately hurts the Lakers’ efforts to build around him, to be a contender.