Never mind that the playoffs won’t begin for nearly six months. It’s never too soon to leap to conclusions about what we know — or think we know — one week into the 2012-13 regular season.
Knicks: Just when it became fashionable to trade in those blue and orange jerseys for the black and white of Brooklyn, the Knicks roll out their best start in team history, not only going 3-0, but also winning every game by at least 16 points. Nobody’s breaking out the countdown charts until Carmelo Anthony and his buddies run down the historic 72-10 record of the Bulls. But as long as the Knicks keep sharing the ball and the likes of Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni give big man Tyson Chandler help with their defense on the perimeter, they’re for real. At least until Amar’e Stoudemire comes back to mess with the chemistry. Suddenly the Eastern Conference is about more than sniping between the Heat and Celtics. We all know the real bad blood is N.Y. vs. Miami with Jeff Van Gundy hanging onto Alonzo Mourning’s ankle.
Lakers: The NBA’s combination of longest-running soap opera/situation comedy of the past two decades has always been the ride on the day-to-day roller coaster of the Lakers. It’s part of the DNA of Angelenos to panic anytime their team loses two in a row and this season an 0-3 start hit the hysterical jackpot. Yes, Mike Brown will be under more microscopes than a newly discovered germ at the CDC and, yes, it will matter that soon-to-be-39-year-old Steve Nash is ambulatory for the postseason and it would help if their bench wasn’t paper thin. Still every team in the West outside of the Thunder and Spurs would trade its roster for a confused Dwight Howard and an aging Kobe Bryant. They’re not dead yet, but their breathing is labored.
James Harden: Look, LeBron James already has a shelf full of MVP trophies and is concentrating on chasing down Michael Jordan for his six championships. So wouldn’t it be simpler to just acknowledge right now that The Beard is unstoppable. It was never a secret that Harden was talented and explosive. But popping in 37 and 45 in his first two games with the Rockets and leading the league in scoring at 35.3 has been like scrapping the velvet off a painting of dogs playing poker and to find a Rembrandt hiding underneath. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – NBA players remind me of political candidates during election season. They go from city to city, facing a media throng eager to pepper them with questions that usually result in answers that barely raise an eyebrow they’ve been given so many times.
Every now and then, though, you get something totally bizarre. And that’s exactly what the reporters covering the Miami Heat practice in Cleveland today got when they assembled to interview LeBron James after practice.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When I packed up and headed off to college a lifetime ago, the last thing my folks said to me as I hit the door was “remember — no matter what happens — you can always come home.”
Those were comforting words for a clueless kid headed to a new life over 1,000 miles away from everything he’d ever known.
LeBron James is going to find out the hard way that those words don’t always ring true.
You can’t always go home, at least not right away in some cases. Sometime in the distant future, perhaps 20 years from now, he might be able to return to Cleveland without drawing the ire of the masses.
Thursday night’s Heat-Cavaliers game at Quicken Loans Arena, however, is definitely not going to be that time.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –LeBron James is 2-for-2 this summer in public relations disasters.
The ill-conceived and horribly executed “The Decision” was first, enraging an entire fan base and region of Ohio while also uniting fans of 29 other NBA teams against the Miami Heat and their new trio of superstars.
“For all my life, I have lived in Akron — and for that, I am truly a lucky man.
“It was here where I first learned how to play basketball, and where I met the people who would become my lifelong friends and mentors. Their guidance, encouragement and support will always be with me.
“Akron is my home, and the central focus of my life. It’s where I started, and it’s where I will always come back to. You can be sure that I will continue to do everything I can for this city, which is so important to my family and me. Thank you for your love and support. You mean everything to me.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Sifting through the wreckage that was “The Decision,” the 60-minute ESPN spectacle that saw LeBron James declare his intentions to join the All-Star party in Miami, has left us with very few real winners but oh so many losers.
Sure, the Heat vault to the top of the list of title contenders in the Eastern Conference on star power alone, sending their fans and folks in and around south Florida into their own hoop dream that ends with parades up and down Ocean Drive. And James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all checking their ring sizes in anticipation of the hardware they will chase for the next five seasons, and possibly beyond.
But there is little else to celebrate today, with frayed feelings everywhere else.
Their rage remains palpable, not only with James but with any and everyone that doesn’t share their anger about the way this all went down.
Still, the Hang Time crew had been charged with handing out awards for the winners and demerits for the losers. And no matter what, we have to do the job. So without further ado:
WINNERS — Miami, South Beach and business owners all over South Florida
Every single restaurant, club, condo and boutique hotel and shop owner in Miami should start planning to clear out more space and expand their facilities, because if James’ arrival there has a similar impact to what he had in Cleveland, business is about to get really, really good. Already one of the world’s finest party hot-spots, Miami and South Beach get the added boost of being the epicenter of the NBA universe for at least the next year. And if the Heat actually lives up to the immense hype that surrounds this groundbreaking compilation of stars, Will Smith might want to find his way to the studio for his 1997 hit, beinvenido a Miami!
LOSERS — Jim Gray, LeBron James and Dan Gilbert
Both James and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert will spend plenty of time as punching bags for folks that don’t agree with how they have handled themselves during this process, and rightfully so. The entire broadcast was a classic example of how not to handle something like this, as both Richard Sandomir of The New York Times and Buzz Bissinger of Vanity Fair made abundantly clear in these must-read accounts of what went down Thursday night. But the man we’d most like to bounce on his head here at the hideout is Jim Gray. Not only did he drive us wacky playing 21 questions (fine, he asked 18 before getting to the only one anyone cared about), he did it in such a smug manner that even James appeared to be annoyed with the silly banter. Even worse is the news that Gray was possibly behind this entire debacle, per CNBC’s sports business guru Darren Rovell. We waited 30 minutes for James to give us what we came for and we’re putting that last 30 on Gray and his useless interviewing scheme. This wasn’t fair to the fans in Cleveland or anywhere else to drag out the decision the way they did.
WINNERS — Dennis Scott and the rest of the media working the story
LOSERS — Mike Brown and Danny Ferry, the ousted brain trust
Former coach Mike Brown and former GM Danny Ferry were both ushered out of town in the aftermath of the Cavaliers’ playoff flame out last season. Brown was fired, while Ferry chose to depart rather than spend his time dealing with the foolishness that he must have known was in store in free agency. Both men were scapegoats for failures that deserves to spread out among many more, including James and Gilbert. Brown departed as the most successful coach in franchise history and really a pawn in a game far more sinister than he probably imagined. Ferry got out ahead of the craziness. And good for him. They’ll both resurface elsewhere and the hideout crew wishes them the best.
WINNER — Tom Izzo, the Cavs-coach-that-wasn’t
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo knew better than to dip his toes into the NBA waters in Cleveland, whether LeBron James was on board or not. Kudos to Izzo for smelling the stench ahead of time and avoiding being a casualty in this high-stakes hoops-opera that would only have served to tarnish his legacy as one of college basketball’s best coaches. Izzo resisted the intense and lucrative recruiting pitch of another MSU Spartan, Gilbert, who clearly isn’t ready to turn the operation over to anyone else, not even Izzo. If he watched Thursday night’s show, and there was no reason for Izzo to bother, we bet he was relieved that he hadn’t jumped at Gilbert’s offer when he heard the words “South” and “Beach” roll of James’ lips.
LOSERS — Cavs coach Byron Scott and the team and fans James left behind
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott remains a fantastic choice to lead the Cavaliers into this most uncertain future. But he could have kept his analyst job with ESPN if he’d known he would be coaching a team with Mo Williams as its first option. Scott was rumored to be the next in line for the Los Angeles Lakers if Phil Jackson left, he didn’t. So you go from almost coaching a team led by Kobe Bryant to almost coaching led by James to coaching a team led by Anderson Varejao? That’s just not right. We’re rooting for the Cavs, who still have some room to maneuver and add star power of some sort with nearly $12 million in available cap space, once they renounce their rights to James. But Scott will have to work some magic to save this season for the Cavaliers and a fan base that’s been cut to the bone by yet another disappointing sports moment.
WINNERS — The team that upends the Miami 3 on their way to a title
LOSERS — All the teams that didn’t land James, Wade or Bosh
James never did name a runner-up for his services or a pecking order for the six teams he considered. So we’ll throw them all in here since the Heat snagged the top three free agents on the market. The Knicks, however, lead the pack of the biggest losers. After spending the last two years doing whatever they could to create hype for James coming to Madison Square Garden and saving a basketball-mad city, so losing out to former Knicks coach Riley has to sting for the Knick faithful, yes that includes you Spike Lee. Amar’e Stoudemire is not an adequate consolation prize, we don’t care how many different ways the Knicks try to sell it. Waiting another year for Carmelo Anthony or some other member of the free agent class of 2011 isn’t going to cut it either. The Bulls, Nets, Cavaliers and even the Clippers have foundations to work with. Meanwhile, the Knicks are back to chasing ghosts.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We waited with bated breath for this?
LeBron James delivered the news we’ve been hearing about all day.
He’s going to Miami, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to for a Heat trio that is expected to be the foundation for a modern-day NBA dynasty.
James leaves in his wake a city and team in Cleveland that will likely never recover from the emotional scar of being spurned by the near-hometown kid during the most insane free-agent frenzy this sport has ever seen.
Those folks in New York, Chicago and New Jersey will lick their wounds as well. At one time or another in the past week, they all thought they were going to be the winner of the LeBron sweepstakes.
But they didn’t have the emotional connection the folks in Cleveland had to a player that grew up in Akron and has spent his entire life in Northeast Ohio … until now.
Some 28 minutes into his primetime special, “The Decision,” James finally delivered his decision.
And the words seemed didn’t seem to get stuck on the way out, though he said he didn’t make his decision until Thursday morning.
“This morning I woke up, had a great conversation with my mom and once I had that conversation I was set,” he said.
The Miami Heat!
“It gives me the best opportunity to win for multiple years,” James said, admitting that it was hard to turn down an opportunity to play with Wade and Bosh in a situation where they could all realize their championship dreams.
And to the fans of Cleveland?
“It’s hard to explain,” James said. “I never wanted to leave Cleveland. And my heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me, to move on.”