Posts Tagged ‘Magic Johnson’

Jump Ball: Steve Nash’s place in history


VIDEO: Steve Nash had high hopes for this season during Lakers’ training camp

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mention Steve Nash‘s name in the wrong way and you better get ready for a fight.

You either believe in Nash, the narrative and everything else that comes with it, or you don’t.

His supporters are passionate in defense of the two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer. They feel, perhaps rightly so, that he is often targeted unfairly by those who don’t believe he was the rightful MVP.

Now that his 2014-15 season is over because of a recurring back injury, the Los Angeles Lakers veteran will spend what could be his final season in Los Angeles and the league, at the center of yet another great debate.

Where does Nash rank all time?

His offensive numbers suggest that he belongs among the game’s titans, one of the best point guards to play the game and easily the most accomplished shooter to play the position. Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton , in whatever order you’d like, make up most people’s top four. When you get to the fifth spot is where things get tricky.

Does Nash rank ahead of guys from his own era, guys like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, a Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer who have been to The Finals, and in both cases they played in multiple Finals and own rings?  And would Nash have been as effective in a different era, when the rules of the game didn’t allow offensive players, point guards in particular, the freedom of movement they enjoy now?

Nash’s offensive prowess cannot be disputed. But his defensive shortcomings and the fact that he never appeared in The Finals damage his case when you are talking about where he stacks up among the best of the very best.

Anytime there are more questions than answers my colleague and Hang Time California bureau chief Scott Howard Cooper, born and raised in Los Angeles and as knowledgeable about the Lakers and their lore as anyone in the business, finds me.

We’ve sparred about Nash before, but never in this context (with the end of his fantastic career clearly in sight). While I acknowledge he’s been one of the best of his era and a true Hall of Famer, I don’t know if I’m ready to slide him into my top 10 point guards of all time (I don’t even rank him ahead of Tony Parker, a Finals MVP and multiple time NBA champion who is destined for the Hall of Fame as well).. So we had no choice but to try to settle this debate in Jump Ball …

On Oct 24, 2014, at 2:42 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

Jump Ball: Steve Nash’s place in history

Steve Nash hasn’t officially announced his retirement, but the Lakers have said he is done for the season after Nash had previously said this would be his final season. Maybe he decides he can’t go out this way and wants to make one last attempt. It sounds like he’s done, though.

Either way, it’s fair to consider his legacy, because even if he does come back in 2015-16, it won’t be for long. I have him as one of the great offensive point guards ever and in the upper-echelon at the position overall. He wasn’t a good defender, a hit when comparing Nash with star two-way PGs like John Stockton and Gary Payton. But an automatic as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I would also say he’s in the top five of international players.

No disagreement there, right?

On Oct 24, 2014, at 12:01 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Yeah! Right …

You have to remove those Nash-colored glasses, Sir. You mention defense as an afterthought. That’s a huge part of the game, a critical part of the game that is often foolishly overlooked.

I don’t want you to go there, Hyphen, but you are scaring me. Would You take Nash take in his prime over Gary Payton or Jason Kidd? I won’t even add Magic, Isiah, Oscar, or Stockton to that mix. What about Tony Parker? Shall I go on?

I love Nash and what he brought to the game. And the MVPs … well, I shouldn’t go there.

But throwing him in the mix with the greatest point guards of all-time, the top four or five international players. I say let him officially retire first.

And let’s think long and hard about who you’d want in his prime between Nash, perhaps the greatest shooting point guard of all-time, and the other elite point guards we’ve seen who were much more complete players than Nashty!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Date: October 24, 2014 at 3:20:41 PM EDT

I can’t take of my Nash-colored glasses. (Molson rules!)

I didn’t mention defense as an afterthought. I mentioned it front and center. He was not a good defender and it’s why he doesn’t rate with some others who played around the same time. But he was at a special level on offense. Nash could play fast or slow, distribute or shoot. He was smart and always showed up ready to play. No head games. There was a toughness.

Obviously, as you said, Magic, Oscar, Stockton and Payton are ahead in the rankings. I would say J-Kidd as well, although that’s a decent debate because Kidd was a poor shooter until late in his career and Nash was a great shooter, Kidd was a very good defender and Nash struggled, Kidd was too often accompanied by drama and Nash was the opposite.

But I don’t see Tony Parker over Nash as the easy call you seem to make it out to be. Parker is great and a Hall of Famer as well, so don’t try to turn this into me knocking Parker to get the French mad at me. (Oh, who cares. Get the French mad at me.) Nash on the Spurs instead of Parker results in championships as well. I just don’t see a single thing to knock about Nash on offense and Nash in the locker room.

On Oct 24, 2014, at 1:14 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Look at you, going all patriotic on me … Two times! Classic. Haha. I’m gonna stick to my roots and what I know.

I’d prefer we keep this debate in the realm of reality. And in what realm does a Finals MVP and four-time champion like Tony Parker take a backseat to a great player, no doubt, but one who never saw the inside of the NBA Finals?

This is not about disrespecting Nash or his legacy. We agree. He’s a Hall of Famer. A case could be made that he’s earned every bit of whatever hardware has come his way (a case you undoubtedly will try to make … haha).

I just refuse to buy into this syrup-soaked narrative of yours. I can’t do it. I won’t. “If Nash was on the Spurs” automatically squashes the whole thing.

If you have to employ the word “if” to make your case, you have no case!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

On Oct 25, 2014, at 4:48 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

No question the lack of a Finals appearance, let alone a championship, is a big hole in the resumé. But look at what Nash did in the playoffs. Consecutive postseasons of 23.9 points/11.3 assists/52-percent shooting, 20.4/10.2/50.2 and 18.9/13.3/46.3. Another at 17.8/10.1/51.8. A career 40.9 behind the arc in the playoffs.

At some point you have to drop “Didn’t win a championship” as a tipping point. It’s obvious that shortcoming is not on Nash.

On Oct 25, 2014, at 2:25 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

When discussing the best of the very best, winning a championship becomes the ultimate dividing line, or at least one of them.

You’re either a champion or not. Same rules apply for other great players at other positions.

Why would we drop it now? That’s crazy talk.

This is not about Nash’s shortcomings, the one or two you want to nit pick. This is about an age-old debate about how great players stack up in the history of the game. Nash can’t get a pass here because we loved the narrative that came with him or because he’s such a great guy (which he no doubt is and always has been).

This is about facts and not circumstances. Whatever the circumstance, Nash, as you conceded, has glaring holes I. His resume. The same holes that any all-time great and future Hall of Famer would have to own.

I can appreciate Nash’s career for what it has been, but I’m not going to elevate it to another level when the facts simply do not support such action.

Great player, great numbers and a truly great guy. We don’t need to inflate his impact or accomplishments. And there’s no shame in being a great player.

But a transcendent player … slow down buddy!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

On Oct 25, 2014, at 5:36 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

Right. Facts and circumstances, as you say.

The only player in history to shoot at least 50 percent overall, 40 percent on threes and 90 percent from the line four different seasons. Larry Bird did it twice. No one else did it more than once.

Third in career assists.

Along with John Stockton the only players to average more than 11 assists beyond age 33. Nash did it three times.

One of five players to ever total more than 800 assists in four consecutive seasons.

First all-time in free-throw percentage.

Ninth all-time in three-point percentage (minimum 250 makes).

Along with Magic Johnson the only point guard to win multiple MVPs.

This has nothing to do with loving the narrative and respecting the person. It has everything to do with facts and circumstances.

I’m glad you agree with me. About time.

On Oct 25, 2014, at 3:09 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Yawn!

All of these statistical qualifiers wouldn’t be necessary if you could give me just one trip to The Finals on his back. Just one.

What do your eyes tell you? You’re old enough to have seen the game evolve over the past 30 years or more. You know in your heart of hearts that even with all of the pretty numbers, there’s something missing.

Mark Cuban got smoked for letting Nash go to Phoenix and breaking Dirk Nowitzki and Nash up.

History, however, will be on his side.

The Mavs won it all after Nash departed and the Suns never got over the hump with him at the helm.

Like I said before, you’re either a champion or you’re not. Facts, not circumstances.

There is no qualifier needed.


VIDEO: Steve Nash is done for the season in Los Angeles, courtesy of a back injury

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 174) Featuring Bob Ryan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve been having these arguments for years. In barber shops and sports bars, basement man caves and back porches. No one ever wins or loses either, because the debate never ends.

Would Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell be as dominant today as they were in their day? What about Oscar Robertson today or Shaq, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James back then?

Whose game transcends time?

Everyone will pick Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other members of the NBA’s all-time elite. But for the rest of the mere mortals … who’s to say a great athlete in today’s game would automatically dominate a bygone era when athleticism was not at the premium it is now?

No one can answer with certainty. Educated guesses are still the best anyone can do in this regard.  Unless, of course, you are Bob Ryan, the retired Boston Globe columnist and living and breathing basketball encyclopedia, a man who has literally seen it all, from one era to another and another and another. His new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” is a must read, by the way.

He joins us on Episode 174 of the Hang Time Podcast to stoke the age-old debate we revisit often around here. Whose game could shuffle through time and remain as potent in one dimension as it would in another?  

Dive into Episode 174 to find out where we all stand …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

‘At 6-11, playing point guard…’ in Antetokounmpo’s future?


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo gets it done on both ends

MILWAUKEE – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich got laughs during The Finals when he talked about Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan’s undying belief that, deep down, he’s a 6-foot-11 point guard.

No one was goofing around Saturday night, though, when folks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center actually saw one.

Derrick Rose wasn’t on the court for Chicago; in fact, the Bulls used backups Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks the whole fourth quarter. The stakes were low in a contest played in the middle of October.

Still, there was significance to be found when Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo played point guard for the Bucks for the final quarter of their 91-85 loss to the Bulls.

Milwaukee lost the game but won that particular quarter, 24-17. And lest you forget, Antetokounmpo stands 6-11, courtesy of a two-inch growth spurt in the offseason.

“I feel like if I handle the ball it gives me the opportunity to go around the bigs and go to the basket,” the second-year teenager from Greece said afterward. “Not only that, but I tried to make my teammates better. That’s what I was thinking.”

It wasn’t 12 minutes of John Stockton out there on the throwback MECCA hardwood. None of the Bucks, frankly, benefited more from Antetokounmpo at the point than Antetokounmpo, who scored nine points but passed for no assists in the period. Then again, he made four of his seven shots while his teammates combined to shoot 5-of-17 in the fourth, so assists were hard to come by.

“I thought Giannis did a great job for us at the point, running the show, finding guys and also being able to find his shot,” said Jason Kidd – who ought to know, right? “We kind of fell into it with B. Knight being hurt [minor leg injury] and I didn’t want to run up [Kendall Marshall's] minutes. So this was a perfect situation against a talented team to give him a chance to see what he can do at the point.”

The extra-long point guard is one of those NBA breakthroughs that pretty much began and ended with Magic Johnson. Given Johnson’s massive success as the 6-foot-9 ringleader of “Showtime,” people assumed the league would soon be dominated by converted shooting guards and small forwards as their team’s primary playmakers.

It never became a trend, because players with similar skills and aptitudes were in such short supply – and Johnson’s game came to be revered even more than before. Oh, we’ve had a few; Jalen Rose and Shaun Livingston come to mind. The term “point forward” still gets used – LeBron James and Kevin Durant surely have played that role, and Chicago’s Joakim Noah often looked like a “point center” in Rose’s absence last season.

But Antetokounmpo, who ran the point at times at the Las Vegas Summer League in July, is trying to cut his teeth at the position at least on a part-time, as-needed basis. His most memorable highlight Saturday was more garden-variety Giannis – blocking Taj Gibson’s shot at one end, then sprinting down the floor to finish with a dunk at the other end. And yet, Kidd praised the kid for a different scoring chance.

“Yeah, he showed, I thought it was, kind of that Magic Johnson baby hook,” the coach said.

With Knight, Marshall, Jerryd Bayless and Nate Wolters on the roster, there might not be an extreme need for Antetokounmpo to work as the consummate floor general’s floor general. Kidd mostly wants him and fellow teen Jabari Parker to slow down as they learn, even though he wants the Bucks to pick up the pace of their attack.

Antetokounmpo today isn’t the point guard – or the anything – he might become with more experience. But he’s getting a taste and giving a glimpse. Several Bulls players noticed a hike in Antetokounmpo’s confidence.

“I haven’t seen a small guard take the ball from him or give him too much pressure,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “He’ll start going more north and south than east and west, and we’ll start taking advantage of his size.

“It’s the ultimate weapon to me. He can post up and bang and exploit mismatches. … He expands our lineup, especially defensively.”

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

Lighter is better for LeBron, ‘Melo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Forget the massive, muscle-bound LeBron James you’ve known for years.

He’s gone.

He’s been replaced by a sleeker and more fit model for the return to Cleveland.

LeBron is one of several NBA superstars, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade help headline the list, in the midst of physical transformations that will help sustain their careers. Sure, these guys are already at the top of the athlete food chain. But they are taking it to the next level from a fitness and nutritional standpoint, yet another sign that today’s stars are in tune with their bodies in games, due in large part to advances in the science and technology of the day, in ways that their predecessors never were.

Low-carb diets and personal weight watching is the rule of summer.

And as we all know, when LeBron digs in on something, it won’t take long for the masses to follow (it took hours for everyone else to chime in on the “Coming Home” theme).

The physical changes are impossible to miss. The leaner and more fit versions of these stars are shockingly different from what we’re used to. The new looks came basically overnight. It took LeBron a month, from the end of The Finals in June, to make dramatic changes to his appearance.

It’s continued genius from LeBron, Carmelo, DWade and others who recognize that change is needed, on their parts, from a physiological and lifestyle standpoint. They all recognize the fact that they’ve been on this build-the-body-up grind for years, a combination of the hard work and dedication that comes with being the best of the best as well as the natural growth and maturation any man goes through from his teens to the dreaded 30-year-old goal line. (Traditionally, the belief is that NBA players in general hit a certain plateau at 30 and go down the other side of the physical mountain.)

In short, the older you get the more in tune you have to be with your body and how things are changing as you continue to age, mature and settle into your life.

SI.com offered up an explanation and breakdown of the plan LeBron instituted this summer that has quite literally changed the man from the buffed up and bulkier version we are all used to seeing:

The basic, scientific concept behind James’ weight loss and low-carb diet is simple: train the body to rely on fat for fuel. The goal of restricting your daily intake of carbohydrates is to create a metabolic state called ketosis, where the body uses fat as a source of energy instead of glucose (aka carbs) in the blood and liver. When carbs are restricted low enough, the body will produce ketones, which can be used as energy—something that Dr. Jeff Volek says is inherently in our genetic code.

“There is a growing number of athletes who have been told that they need carbs and now you see them questioning that conventional wisdom,” says Volek, co-author of two books including, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. “It does take at least four weeks to adapt to the diet but almost anyone can do it and it’s something they can maintain through competition.”

Where LeBron leads, others will follow.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see Wade or Carmelo get it on the movement. No one should be surprised to see other stars follow the trend. Lighter is bound to be better for guys who carry the physical load for their respective teams the way these guys do.

LeBron being lighter on his feet will undoubtedly be better for the Cavaliers, who are set to add Kevin Love as a stretch power forward, which will eliminate the need for a bulked up LeBron who would have to split his time between the perimeter and the post.

A sleeker and swifter Carmelo operating in the Knicks’ new triangle-based offense makes much more sense than deploying the bigger and bulkier Carmelo trying to get up and down the floor while maintaining a high level of production on both ends.

Wade, who is older than his Draft classmates, has already hit the physical road block that impacts the careers of most anyone who lasts as long as he has at the highest level. He hasn’t been “Flash” for a while now. His knees have been an issue. Without James around any longer to help tote the load in Miami, he has no choice but to try to reinvent himself.

Carb-cutting alone won’t complete these transformations. These guys will all have to adjust, even if only slightly, to not being able to physically dominate their competition.

But it’s an interesting twist for guys who all have to start fresh, in one way or another, for the 2014-15 season.

Injury blame game is small thinking

It was small thinking back in 2003 when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided that the price to re-sign a 29-year-old Steve Nash was too high and broke up a partnership with Dirk Nowitzki that had only begun to flourish. All that Nash proceeded to do was get voted onto the Western Conference All-Star team six times and win back-to-back Most Valuable Players honors in 2005 and 2006.

It was another case of small thinking when Cuban decided that once was enough in 2011 after his Mavericks won the only NBA championship in franchise history and broke up the team. In the interest of salary cap management and to chase quixotic free-agent fantasies, Cuban decided it was time to cut the cord with big man Tyson Chandler, their long-sought rim protector and anchor. Rather than remain among the league’s elite, the Mavs fell into the morass in the middle of the standings.

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Now, in the wake of the injury to Paul George last week in a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas, the Mavs’ outspoken and often highly-entertaining owner is thinking small again by saying that NBA players should not be playing in the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup.

“The [International Olympic Committee] is playing the NBA,” Cuban said. “The IOC [pulls in] billions of dollars. They make a killing and make Tony Soprano look like a saint … Teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets.”

It is a natural and understandable knee-jerk reaction to the loss of a player of George’s caliber, especially in Indiana where the Pacers’ bid to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference will likely go on hold for at least a year while he mends. Yet in blaming the IOC for the broken bones and restating his old case for an NBA sponsored world tournament, Cuban is both misguided and conflating the issues.

First off, injuries occur in sports and in life. The Bulls’ Derrick Rose tore up his left knee in the final minutes of Game 1 in the 2012 playoffs, sat out a full season and then suffered a tear in his right knee barely a month into the 2013-14 schedule. Clippers top draft pick Blake Griffin suffered a stress fracture in his left kneecap in the final exhibition game in 2009 and missed his entire rookie season following surgery.

They were accidents that can happen at any time. Grizzled vet Moses Malone used to spend summer nights in the stifling heat of Fonde Rec Center in downtown Houston, staying in shape and schooling any challengers, including a pupil named Hakeem Olajuwon. Either one of them could have torn a ligament or broken a bone at any time. Michael Jordan specifically had a “love-of-the-game” clause written into his contract with the Bulls because he wanted to be able to pick up a ball and step onto a court to feed his competitive fire whenever and wherever the urge struck.

Sure, George’s injury is a devastating blow, to the player, the Pacers and to the NBA. However, Cuban’s screed against the IOC isn’t to get every NBA player resting on a bed of pillows every summer, but rather have them play instead in an NBA-sponsored tournament, where the league and the owners can get their cut of the money.

“The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money,” Cuban said. “The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball.”

Ask yourself if Pacers fans would be any less melancholy today if George had run into a stanchion at an official NBA event in July.

In thinking small, Cuban is also selectively squinting to avoid recognizing how much NBA participation in the Olympics has changed the league and the game for the better. His own star Nowitzki was inspired as a teenager in Germany by the 1992 USA Dream Team that included the icons Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. By taking the best of the best to the Olympics, the NBA spread the gospel of the game, cultivated new generations of talent and established basketball’s firm footing as the second-most popular sport on the planet, behind soccer.

When the Dream Team was assembled 22 years ago, there were only 21 foreign-born players in the NBA. Last season that total had quadrupled to a record-tying 84, including a staggering 10 on the roster of the 2014 NBA champion Spurs. In the interim, Yao Ming was literally and figuratively a giant bridge to Asia and helped turn the largest continent on Earth into a hotbed of fan interest and a lucrative market that lines the pockets of NBA owners.

Perhaps Cuban can be forgiven for not grasping the importance of the international effect on the game, since he bought the Mavs and joined the league in 2000, after the tap had been turned on and worldwide cash was already flowing. But that’s an awfully benevolent benefit of doubt for the shrewd entrepreneur billionaire. It would be wrong for the wounded fan base in Indiana to ignore the vast benefits derived from the Olympics and point the finger of blame that way, too.

Or, it could simply be  just small thinking.

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – “Showtime” did, sort of, return to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

During the press conference to introduce former Lakers guard Byron Scott as the team’s 25th coach, old teammates Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes strolled into the Lakers’ practice gym to show their support. Johnson, a constant public critic of the last Lakers coach, Mike D’Antoni, nearly suffocated Scott with a massive, joy-filled hug.

Johnson declared this as “a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world,” and then proclaimed the impossible: “Showtime’s back, baby!”

Scott, 53, flanked Magic in the Lakers’ backcourt for three of the Showtime Lakers’ four championship runs during the 1980s, plus three other Finals appearances through 1991. Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., home of the old Fabulous Forum and then the renamed Great Western Forum where those teams dazzled the senses, obviously has intimate knowledge of how those high-powered teams excelled.

Yet even Scott, who along with all Lakers fans can appreciate Magic’s exuberance for bringing a Laker Man back to the helm, had to tap the brakes on Magic’s “Showtime” giddiness here in the real world of 2014.

“We can’t play that way,” Scott said during his press conference. “We don’t have a Magic Johnson.”

Touché.

Remember, it was D’Antoni when hired five games into the 2012-13 season who embraced the faux return of Showtime, declaring his inherited edition would score 110 points a game or something ridiculous. Such bravado presumably came from either an attempt to capture angry Lakers fans enamored with Phil Jackson, or from his past successes running-and-gunning in Phoenix with two-time MVP Steve Nash, whom the Lakers had acquired that summer, only at a slightly more advanced age than he was in those heady Suns days.

Nash remains with the Lakers. He’s 40 now and has played 65 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and just 15 last season. Kobe Bryant was a bushy-haired rookie during Scott’s final season. Scott returned to L.A. for the 1996-97 season for a final hurrah after playing a few seasons elsewhere a couple years after Magic’s initial stunning retirement.

The offense Kobe and Nash will run, Scott said on Tuesday, will be a mixture of everything he’s ever done at his previous stops with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, where he was the poor sap who took the gig just before LeBron James declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.

His greatest chore, Scott said, going full anti-D’Antoni (who truthfully had no shot last season with the unending injuries that ravaged the team), will be turning this group into a defensive-minded unit. Scott probably choked just a bit as he glanced at the Lakers’ stats last season. They finished 28th overall in defensive rating, giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” Scott said. “These three gentlemen [Magic, Kareem and Wilkes] that’s sitting in this front row, the first thing that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control.”

Just prior to making that statement, Scott said he told general manager Mitch Kupchak that he assembled a roster that will be “very competitive.” Hopefully Scott remembered the Lakers are still in the Western Conference. Anyway, there’s nothing like new-coach optimism.

On the bright side, the Lakers were so awful last season that it figures to be next-to-impossible to be as bad. The Lakers lost a franchise-record 55 games. Kobe played in six. He’ll be back. We know he’ll be paid a handsome $23.5 million next season, but we don’t know at what level he’ll perform or how he’ll adapt his game to his changing athleticism and physical capabilities following the torn Achilles tendon of two seasons ago and last season’s knee injury. Or how his patience will stand up to a mediocre team and a new coach, even one this time he personally endorsed.

Nash, as mentioned, is back, too, but how long he can play or how effectively is a total mystery.

Pau Gasol is out. Vetaran power forward Carlos Boozer is in.

The rest of Scott’s team looks like this: No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle, then Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre.

Showtime? The straight-faced Scott was right to tap the brakes.

Give him credit for that, and now give him time to implement a system and gain some cohesion, and time for trusted management to work some magic in the coming summers that missed the mark with available superstars this time around.

Only then will we know if Magic can truly crow that Showtime’s back, baby.

LeBron’s next decision defines him


VIDEO: Pat Riley talks about LeBron’s free-agency

Pat Riley is right.

Now it’s about looking back and looking ahead.

Let LeBron James go away on vacation, confer with his wife and the rest of his family and friends. Then remember just how far he’s come.

Not just from the prodigy of Akron to king of the basketball world in Miami.

But from July 2010 to now. From those first days after the ill-fated, ill-thought “Decision,” to  his current place where the respect has come, albeit grudgingly.

As long as he laces up his sneakers and snaps on that headband, there will always be that part of the public that will never give him his due.

They are the segment of fandom that will never get over a Sports Illustrated cover that made him “The Chosen One.” Hyped up and pre-packaged is always a difficult bar to clearn.

They are the ones who’ll always claim they lost respect for him when he bailed out on the Cavaliers and took his talents to South Beach to chase rings, even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett and others had followed similar paths.

They are the ones who resented the fact that the Heat roster was filled with All-Star talent, despite the fact that it was different than those Lakers and Celtics teams that ushered in the so-called Golden Age of the 1980s in the NBA.

Those are the ones James will never win over, no matter how many he adds to the four MVP awards already in his collection and the two championships he won in Miami.

Even in defeat to the Spurs, there was no disputing who was the best individual player on the court in the 2014 Finals. The same as 2013, 2012, 2011.

Riley is right when he says too many are too quick to dismiss the Heat achievement of getting to The Finals four years in a row. We always overreact to the last thing we saw and so it is easy to say the Miami glory days are through.

Dwyane Wade is definitely far from his peak and some of those sharp edges have been worn from Chris Bosh’s game.

But of the current rosters in the Eastern Conference, which team would you put right now ahead of the Heat for next season? The fractured Pacers? The leaning-on-Derrick-Rose’s-bad-wheels Bulls? The Wizards who just won a playoff series for the first time in nearly a decade?

Sure, he could grab a horse and a cowboy hat and jump off to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston and probably have the most talent-laden, ready-made situation to hoist another championship trophy.

But as he creeps up on his 30th birthday in December, it’s time for James to be considering his legacy in the game and whether another successful chase-the-ring move would actually enhance it.

This really isn’t a question about loyalty, because we know it’s hardly a two-way street when it comes to teams themselves. Face it, the Spurs wouldn’t have hung onto Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all seven years between NBA titles if they weren’t capable of delivering the goods at an All-Star level.

James is carving out his place in history, still young enough to chase those five championships of Duncan and Kobe Bryant, even the six by Michael Jordan. However, in each case, the jewelry won is a matched set, all coming with the same franchise.

Choosing to return to the Cavaliers now won’t make everyone open their arms and forget that he abandoned Cleveland for four of the prime seasons of his career. Bolting for another city any place else in the NBA will only make him look desperate and cheapen the resume that he’s worked hard to rebuild during his time with the Heat.

Over the past four years, James has won over even some of the diehard critics and many of those who were on the fence. He’s been a dominant all-around force, the backbone of the Heat, more circumspect in the public eye, a leader.

By getting to four straight Finals alone, Miami has joined only the Celtics and Lakers in the record books. Magic Johnson’s Lakers only went back-to-back once. Larry Bird’s Celtics never did. Those five Spurs championships that are being celebrated now came over 17 years. The Heat have barely put a dent in that calendar.

To be sure, there is work to be done to pick up the pieces and make them fit together again in Miami. Nobody knows that better than Riley. And nobody should know that it is foolish to underestimate Riley as an architect, a maneuverer more than James.

Riley is right. It is a simple choice of staying the course or hitting the door.

James’ choices with the ball in his hands are almost always above reproach. Now is the time to see how much he’s learned off the court in the last four years about building a proper legacy. This decision defines him for good.

Riley puts heat on LeBron, Big 3 to ‘stay the course … and not run’


VIDEO: Heat boss Pat Riley is calling for everyone to “get a grip” and those who stay to reinvent themselves

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Fifty-five minutes of Pat Riley unfiltered is the off-the-court equivalent of watching a Game 7 of The Finals go to triple overtime. You don’t want a miss a second of the action.

The Miami Heat’s boss was in rare form this morning in his postseason news conference, explaining where the Heat stands now after losing in The Finals to the Spurs and where they are headed with the huge decisions looming for the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in advance of free agency this summer, should they choose to opt-out of their current deals and test the waters.

Riley’s message to them all was clear. But he might as well have FaceTimed LeBron or at least hit him on Skype when talked about the need to “stay the course” and not “run for the first open door.”

Wade and Bosh have already expressed publicly their desire to stay in Miami and continue a partnership that has produced four straight trips to The Finals and two title-winning campaigns. LeBron is the only one who has not hinted publicly about which way he is leaning.

Riley mentioned all of the great dynasties of the past and how many if not all of them failed more than they succeeded in their annual quests to win titles. He spoke of how hard the process can be and of the certain trials and tribulations that accompany the triumphs for those teams that stick together in their quest for Larry O’Brien trophies.

“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”

That’s tougher love than most men in Riley’s position are comfortable using. But most of those men don’t have the experience, backrground or list of accomplishments Riley has. Riley vowed to do whatever it takes to keep his crew together. He pointed to the Spurs and their bond that carried them from a crushing defeat in The Finals last year to a rematch this year and vengeance.

Riley called for mass reinvention, at least for everyone under 69 (his age) and the improvement from within that marked the Spurs’ spectacular run through the regular season and postseason.


VIDEO: Pat Riley talks about LeBron James and the Heat (more…)