Tag:LeBron James
Posted on: December 24, 2010 10:04 pm
 

NBPA prez Fisher disagrees with contraction talk

It didn't take long for LeBron James' idea of creating a new golden age of basketball by eliminating teams to reach the ears of National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher

"I agree that the '80s was a great time for NBA basketball," Fisher told reporters Friday after practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "But I don't agree that contraction or arbitrarily trying to get Hall of Fame or All-Star guys all on the same team is necessarily how you re-create one of the greatest times in NBA history." 

Via the Los Angeles Times Lakers blog: Derek Fisher disagrees with LeBron James endorsing league contraction

When asked Thursday night in Phoenix – by me, if you must know – whether the anticipation of Saturday’s clash between the Lakers and free-agent-fortified Heat was validation for the decision by James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to team up in South Beach, James went on an articulate and controversial tangent about how the NBA’s overall talent is “watered down.” 

“Hopefully the league can figure out one day how it can go back to the situation like it was in the ‘80s,” James said. “… The league was great. It wasn’t as watered down as it is. You had more [star] players on a team, which made almost every game anticipated -- not just a Christmas Day game, not just a Halloween game. I don’t ever think it’s bad for the league when guys decide that they want to do some greatness for the better of what we call a team sport.” 

Via CBSSports.com's BergerSphere: LeBron: Contraction would be 'great' for NBA

When it was pointed out to James that the NBA only had 24 teams back then, as opposed to the 30 it has now, James said, “That’s why. That’s my point.” 

Unsolicited, he then listed some of the teams in the ‘80s that had multiple All-Stars or Hall of Famers. But his soliloquy took a decidedly anti-union direction when he went so far as to name teams that are “not that good right now” – Minnesota and New Jersey were his examples – and spoke about what would happen if you took the good players on those teams and put them on better teams. Such a move would “shrink the guys” James said – a nice way of saying jobs would be lost through contraction, a concept that league negotiators have already confirmed is on the table as part of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. 

“I’m not saying let's take New Jersey and let's take Minnesota out of the league,” James said. “But hey, you guys are not stupid. I'm not stupid, but I know what would be great for the league." 

Fisher, whose union clearly would oppose such a move, said he disagreed with LeBron’s comments but didn’t believe they will hurt the NBPA’s cause in negotiations. 

"I don't think it's my place to tell one of our guys what they should be thinking or feeling or saying,” Fisher said. “But I don't necessarily agree with it." 

One of the biggest stars in the NBA talking about making the league great again by concentrating the talent on fewer teams? That’s certainly something the 30 worse players in the league can’t be happy about – considering that’s how many jobs would be lost if two teams were contracted. 

It’s also hard to see how the overall product wouldn’t be better. That’s something Fisher, union chief Billy Hunter, commissioner David Stern and his 30 (for now) owners will have to figure out.
Posted on: December 23, 2010 10:21 pm
Edited on: December 24, 2010 12:20 am
 

LeBron: Contraction would be 'great' for NBA

PHOENIX -- During a candid pregame discussion about whether the formation of Miami’s free-agent trio was good for the NBA, LeBron James said the most sensible thing I’ve ever heard him say. 

Contraction would be great for the NBA. 

Well, he didn’t us the word “contraction,” but James said he hopes that some day the NBA will be able to figure out how to bring the game back to the greatness that was experienced in the 1980s, when “ten teams had probably two or three All-Stars on one team, at least.” 

When someone correctly pointed out that there were only 24 teams then, as opposed to the 30 that exist now, James said, “That’s why it was great. That’s my point.” 

The conversation began when LeBron was asked if the nationwide anticipation of the Heat-Lakers game on Christmas Day was validation of Dwyane Wade’s plan to join forces with James and Chris Bosh in Miami. Oh, and before we’ve even gotten to the showcase game on Saturday, the league’s TV ratings are up 30 percent this season. Something must be working. 

But as owners of high- and low-revenue teams continue to debate how to enhance the league’s revenue-sharing system in conjunction with negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, the greatness James remembers from the NBA of the ‘80s is only being experienced in a few cities. The Lakers, Mavericks, Spurs, Celtics, Heat and Magic – plus maybe Utah and Chicago – have a legitimate chance at winning the championship. The rest of the teams can only wallow in their own pity – and tens of millions in losses, according to commissioner David Stern. 

“Hopefully the league can figure out one day how it can go back to the situation like it was in the ‘80s,” James said. “… The league was great. It wasn’t as watered down as it is. You had more [star] players on a team, which made almost every game anticipated -- not just a Christmas Day game, not just a Halloween game. I don’t ever think it’s bad for the league when guys decide that they want to do some greatness for the better of what we call a team sport. 

“I’m a player," James said, "but that’s why the league was so great. You can just imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the guys … I’m just looking at some of the teams that are not that great. You take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off teams that are not that good right now and add them to a team that could be really good. I’m not saying let’s take New Jersey, let’s take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid. I’m not stupid, but I know what would be great for the league.” 

He’s right. So you see, there was genius in LeBron’s decision to go to Miami. Because that was only part of the plan. 

I wish he’d announced on “The Decision” that after signing with the Heat, he was also eliminating six teams from the NBA. He wouldn’t have been nearly the villain he’s become.
Posted on: December 17, 2010 2:13 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 9:28 pm
 

Post-Ups (UPDATE)

Houston and Portland, we have problems. 

Two teams that have been tantalizingly close to championship contention in recent years are suddenly in turmoil due to injuries -- franchise-shaping injuries to their franchise players. 

Portland had no sooner come to grips with the loss of Greg Oden -- again -- when the gathering storm of controversy between ailing star Brandon Roy and veteran point guard Andre Miller popped up. The Rockets, struggling without point guard Aaron Brooks, now may have to completely rethink their style of play and strategy for the future with word that center Yao Ming could be out for the year with a stress fracture in his ankle. 

“They built around Yao and they’re going to have to change who they are and become a more transition-oriented team,” a rival executive said. * No one ever thought the Rockets would commit to Yao beyond this season until they learned whether he’d be able to return to the court and be productive. With the answer to that question now being no, it’s time to scrap the notion that Houston can rely on Yao to ever be the centerpiece of a title-contending team. 

Changes are needed in the short run, too. Once Brooks returns -- and that will be soon -- the Rockets will need to forget about Yao and push the pace in a way that fits the talent they have. Kevin Martin is a transition player, and Brooks certainly is. So is recently acquired Terrence Williams, who could be a key part of this new strategy if the change of scenery also changes his attitude. 

As for the Blazers, it would appear that their incredible aptitude for overcoming serious and numerous injuries has come to an end. In the past, winning masked the uncomfortable co-existence of Roy and Miller. Now that Portland is struggling, there’s no way to hide the fact that Roy and Miller aren’t a good fit in the backcourt together. Sources already have told CBSSports.com that Blazers officials are considering going young and moving some of their older pieces -- such as Miller, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla. Miller, with a fully non-guaranteed $7.8 million in 2011-12, has off-the-charts trade value -- especially for a contender in need of a steadying force at point guard. 
UPDATE: A person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Friday that Roy's recent comments about the difficulty he's having playing with Miller were no accident. "He's an unhappy camper," the person said. "A very unhappy camper. For Brandon to talk like that, he's got to be at his breaking point."
Sources continue to tell me that Orlando, which is concerned about not measuring up to Boston and Miami in the East, would be the perfect fit for Miller. The Magic are not going to accept carrying a $94 million payroll into the playoffs, only to lose in the conference semifinals -- which seems to be their fate as currently constructed. Rashard Lewis’ impact continues to diminish, Vince Carter is little more than a jump-shooter, and Jameer Nelson is too inconsistent to rely on as the floor general of a championship-contending team. 

Miller could be the elixir for Orlando. All he does is find open shots for his teammates, and Dwight Howard would be thrilled with Miller’s elite talent as a lob-passer. Howard, who will be part of a blockbuster free-agent class in 2012, has quickly grown frustrated with the Magic’s obvious limitations. 

The piece that could get it done is Marcin Gortat, who’s a starting center on any team but one that has Howard. Though Gortat’s contract goes out three more years, it’s at a reasonable rate for a starting center -- topping out at $7.7 million in 2013-14, when Gortat has an early-termination option. 

Blazers GM Rich Cho has liked Gortat since his days working as Sam Presti’s right-hand man in Oklahoma City, so such a deal would seem to make sense from all angles. Gortat would give Portland a reasonable insurance policy in case Oden never becomes worthy of his No. 1 overall selection in 2007, and Roy would have the ball in his hands more -- which is something he can’t have when playing alongside Miller. Whether Roy’s knees will hold up under those demands is a valid question, but one Portland may very well need answered one way or another. 

UPDATE: According to one source, Roy’s contract is insured against injuries to either knee. There is an outside, secondary policy, the person with knowledge of the policy said, and it also covers one of his ankles. Another person familiar with the details pointed out there are restrictions tied to the length of disability and stipulations related to the timing of a particular injury. Either way, that’s an insurance policy the Blazers never want to have to dust off. Better to put the ball in their franchise player’s hands and see what happens. What have they got to lose? 

Nothing, which is the opposite of what we have in the rest of this week’s Post-Ups: 

* Executives working the phones during these early days of trade inquiry say the teams that appear most determined to make deals before the Feb. 24 deadline are Portland, Detroit, Minnesota, Memphis and Charlotte. But while execs have seen the usual volume of calls, the urgency to clear cap space and/or dump salary isn’t nearly as high as it was last summer. Leading up to the 2010 deadline, multiple teams were hellbent on clearing cap space for a robust free-agent class. Not only will this summer’s free-agent class pale in comparison, teams also are unsure of how and when free agency will take shape due to labor uncertainty. 

* Amid commissioner David Stern’s latest CBA rhetoric, sources say there won’t be any bargaining meetings the rest of the year due to scheduling conflicts and the holidays. As of now, the goal is to gather key participants for a smaller negotiating session in January leading up to an all-important full bargaining session during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. Union officials will be most disturbed by Stern’s assertion during a trip to Memphis this week that the NBA needs to transition to a hard salary cap in order to restore competitive balance. The players view this as a smokescreen, believing that the league wants a hard cap simply as a mechanism to reduce salaries. Meanwhile, Stern dismissed aspects of the NBPA’s proposal that were geared toward improving competitive balance, saying those changes actually would cost owners more money than the current system. So that’s where we are: nowhere. 

* One aspect of the players’ proposal, complete details of which were reported for the first time last week, has gone largely overlooked. The NBPA proposed a broad outline for redistributing draft picks as a way to respond to the owners’ desire to enhance competitive balance. The precise method would be subject to negotiation, but the union envisioned taking draft picks away from the top-tier teams and giving extra picks to the bottom feeders. For example, the top three or top five teams in the draft order would see their first-round picks go to the bottom three or five. So using last year’s lottery order and redistributing the top five teams’ picks, the Wizards would’ve selected first and 26, the Sixers second and 27th, the Nets third and 28th, etc. Not a bad idea, although I wonder if some of those teams would simply be inclined to sell the second of their first-round picks. Either way, it would give struggling teams more assets in their quest to return to playoff contention. 

* As the Nuggets continue to weigh their options with Carmelo Anthony, rival GMs and high-profile agents are divided on whether Anthony would even be a good fit for the Knicks if New Jersey wasn’t able to get him to agree to an extension. There’s no doubting the star power Anthony would bring to New York. Would he make the Knicks better? Clearly, he’d give them the closing perimeter scorer they lack, and in that way he’d be a perfect complement to Amar’e Stoudemire. But would Anthony make the Knicks that much better than a defensive- and transition-oriented wing, such as Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala? “I don’t think the Knicks win any more or less games if it’s Gerald Wallace vs. Carmelo,” a rival GM said. “They’re already scoring 120 points a game. I think they have enough offense.” Others point out that Anthony is a low-efficiency shooter and a ball-stopper; coach Mike D’Antoni could live with the former but detests the latter. But my point is, if the ball stops with Anthony and its next stop is in the basket, so be it. In some ways, the inside-outside combination of Stoudemire and Anthony -- with a capable point guard, Raymond Felton, divvying up the shots -- would be more dangerous than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But here’s what the Melo-doesn’t-fit crowd will tell you, and I concede this point: The Knicks controlled the pace of Wednesday night’s game against Boston for 47-plus minutes. At the end, when they needed someone to stop Paul Pierce, they had nowhere to turn. Anthony is capable of playing better defense than he’s been asked to in Denver; he showed it in Beijing with Team USA. But it’s worth wondering if a player like Wallace or Iguodala would get you just as much scoring in transition and as the second option on Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls and be capable of defending the other team’s closer on the last possession. Other than the fact that Donnie Walsh never panics, this line of thinking could have a lot to do with why he isn’t crushed by the Nets’ all-out pursuit of Melo. “The Knicks are in a pretty good position to sit back and see where the cap falls,” another executive said. “I don’t think Knicks will give up much to get [Anthony], and I don’t think they have much to give up to begin with.”
Posted on: December 14, 2010 2:35 pm
 

Dec. 15 trade-eligible shopping list

The next milestone in the NBA season hits Wednesday when dozens of players signed as free agents over the summer become trade-eligible. ‘Tis the season for re-gifting. 

Don’t like the aging veteran you overpaid in your giddiness as GM of an undefeated juggernaut shopping for free agents? Dump him on some unsuspecing colleague who may be able to to make better use of his meager talents. Having a reality check about how good your team was going to be? Shed the contract you thought you were wise to execute back in July and start getting ready for another draft lottery. 

Under the collective bargaining agreement, players who sign as free agents cannot be traded for three months or until Dec. 15, whichever is later. So theoretically, any free agent signed prior to Sept. 15 can be shipped to a new destination beginning Wednesday. 

It’s not useful to look at this year’s crop of trade-eligible free agents as a free-for-all, because there are plenty of names on the list who will be traded about as soon as pigs sprout wings. (Forget the LeBron-to-New York trade rumors. I think he’s staying put.) Similarly, the Lakers aren’t trading Derek Fisher, the Celtics aren’t trading Shaquille O’Neal, and the Knicks seem mildly happy with MVP candidate Amar’s Stoudemire so far. 

What the Dec. 15 milestone does is expand the pool of assets and contracts available to GMs to make trades work under league guidelines that require salaries to be no more than 125 percent plus $100,000 when over-the-cap teams make deals. Sometimes, one more asset or another $2 million in tradeable contracts makes all the difference in completing a larger deal. 

Something else to keep in mind: Unless it’s a key player who’d fill a crucial need for a contender, executives say teams will be much less likely to take on multi-year contracts this year due to the expected work stoppage. Buyer’s remorse for Brendan Haywood, for example, isn’t going to be easy to assuage because he’s due $45 million over the next five years – when nobody can accurately predict where such a contract will fit into the new salary structure. But players on shorter deals with less than full guarantees could be moved if it helps complete a bigger deal – such as a Carmelo Anthony trade. 

So with that in mind -- and with the assumption that the Heat aren’t’ trading LeBron, the Hawks aren’t trading Joe Johnson, and the Celtics aren’t trading Paul Pierce or Ray Allen -- here are a few of the more interesting names who become trade-eligible Wednesday, based on the likelihood that they could be involved in a trade sometime before the Feb. 24 deadline: 

* Luke Ridnour, Timberwolves: At $12 million over the next three years, Ridnour won’t break the bank and his play-making abilities could be appealing to a team looking for point-guard depth. The Knicks, underwhelmed by Toney Douglas as Raymond Felton’s backup, are interested. 

* Tony Allen, Grizzlies: Allen’s strengths off the bench are wasted on a team like Memphis, which has plenty of other tradeable assets. If the Grizzlies decide to part with O.J. Mayo, for instance, Allen’s contract could help facilitate the deal. 

* Quentin Richardson, Magic: Nobody gets traded as much as Q-Rich, so he has to be on this list. If Orlando decides to pull the trigger on a significant deal -- say, for Andre Miller or Gilbert Arenas -- Richardson could be a throw-in. Complicating matters is the fact that his contract contains a 15 percent trade kicker, but that’s manageble since he’s only due $8 million over the next three years. 

* Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams, Nuggets: Denver is virtually assured of making a big deal for You-Know-Who, in my opinion, and these could be throw-in pieces. I’d include Al Harrington, but A) they’ll need someone to shoot a lot after they trade Melo; and B) nobody will want Big Al for five years at the full mid-level when we’re entering what could be the no-mid-level world of a new CBA. (Even though the last two years are only half-guaranteed.) 

* Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves: Minnesota already has been fielding a lot of calls because they have draft picks, cap space, and young assets. Though injured at the moment, Tolliver is big and cheap and could be part of a bigger deal. 

* Josh Howard, Wizards: On a one-year deal, Howard has the right to veto any trade. But if he gets back on the court and proves he’s healthy before the deadline, his expiring $3 million contract could be used to sweeten a potential Arenas deal. 

* Chris Duhon and Jason Williams, Magic: Stan Van Gundy can’t decide which one is his backup point guard, and you know what they say: When you have two backup point guards, what you really have is none. 

* Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow, Nets: New Jersey is highly likely to make multiple trades between now and the deadline, and team officials continue to believe one of them will be for Anthony. With efforts under way to acquire additional assets Denver has requested, dangling either one or both of these names could help accomplish that. Reluctantly, I’ll include Travis Outlaw here, as well. While his five-year, $35 million deal will scare some teams, his salary is flat throughout with no increases -- a friendly feature as we enter the great CBA unknown. 

* Tyrus Thomas and Kwame Brown, Bobcats: When Larry Brown says his team has begun tuning him out, it’s time to start the stopwatch on LB blowing up the roster with trades. When Brown goes into teardown mode, no one is safe -- not even Thomas, who just signed a five-year, $40 million contract. Good luck peddling that deal amid labor uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean Brown won’t try. 

* Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Rasual Butler and Craig Smith, Clippers: The Clips are ravaged by injuries, underperforming, and owner Donald Sterling is heckling his own players. Who knows what the Clips will do? I do know they have one of the most sought-after first-round picks in the league -- Minnesota’s 2011 pick, which is unprotected in ‘12 -- and will be getting a lot of calls. Butler and Smith can veto any trade since their both on one-year deals. But why would they? 

* Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye, Suns: If Phoenix rapidly falls out of contention, keep an eye on Suns owner Robert Sarver, who is pushing as hard as any owner for a lockout. Warrick’s deal actually is fairly reasonable, with $4.25 million due each of the next two seasons and a team option for the same amount after that. Frye, however, is owed a poisonous $24.8 million over the next for years.
Posted on: December 13, 2010 4:10 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2010 5:37 pm
 

No suspension for Stoudemire (UPDATE)

NEW YORK -- The NBA has decided not to suspend Knicks star Amar'e Stoudemire for either of his dust-ups with Nene during Sunday's game against the Nuggets, a person with knowledge of the league's disciplinary review told CBSSports.com Monday.

The league reviewed two incidents in which Stoudemire and Nene were battling around the basket and determined that neither one warranted a suspension. In one incident, Stoudemire -- expressing frustration with Nene's frequent elbow swinging -- bodied up the Denver big man as he spun to the baseline and appeared to be trying to push Nene out of bounds. 

In an earlier incident during the first quarter, Nene cleared out with his elbow on a drive to the basket and Stoudemire reacted angrily by viciously swinging his elbow -- either in retaliation or to show the officials what Nene did. The elbow did not make contact with Nene, but Stoudemire was assessed a technical foul for the outburst.

The league's disciplinary review was not yet completed, but a source indicated that neither incident would be upgraded to a flagrant foul. A suspension would have kept Stoudemire out of the Knicks' game Wednesday night at home against the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics. The Knicks carry their first eight-game winning streak in 16 years into the game, which is part of a three-game stretch against elite competition that concludes Friday night against the Heat -- a game that will feature LeBron James' first appearance at Madison Square Garden since rejecting the Knicks' efforts to sign him as a free agent.


Posted on: December 2, 2010 7:08 pm
 

LeBron comes home ready to play villain

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James strolled into Quicken Loans Arena at 5:35 p.m. ET Thursday night, dressed all in black.

Perfect.

The villain, dressed for the part.

He was all smiles about 2 1-2 hours before his first game in Cleveland since leaving the Cavs to join the Miami Heat in July.

Within minutes, the King was on his former court, putting up a dizzying array of jumpers and working up a sweat while listening to his pregame motivational music through black-and-red ear buds.

After one clockwise rotation around the court, James wiped sweat from his brow and shouted across the court to former teammate J.J. Hickson, whose pregame jumpers weren't falling with quite the regularity as LeBron's.

"Better shoot some ___ layups," James shouted, smiling widely. "Better shoot some ___ layups. Can't make a damn shot."

Hickson continued shooting and smiled, but didn't turn around.

When he was finished with his customary pregame shooting -- for the first time here as an opponent -- James slapped hands with Cavs assistant coach Chris Jent and embraced the man who was James' personal assistant of sorts on former head coach Mike Brown's staff. James also shared embraces with Hickson and Anthony Parker, but did not do his customary pregame media availability.

That break from routine was announced minutes after Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had finished saying that his goal for this extraordinarily hyped game was to "keep it normal."

There was nothing normal about this night.

Spoelstra talked about taking care of "our two brothers," meaning LeBron and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who joined James in bolting Cleveland for Miami but was expected to receive a warm reception from the sellout crowd of 20,562 -- in stark contrast to the venom directed at James.

"This is an extreme environment tonight, there's no way around it," Spoelstra said in the crowded hallway outside the visiting locker room -- where James would soon be suiting up for the first time in his eight-year career. "So we've got to stay in the moment."

The moment, finally, had arrived.
Posted on: December 1, 2010 9:04 pm
 

Cavs' tampering case may be too little, too late

The coup that sent the free-agent dominoes tumbling toward Miami this past July could be under scrutiny by the NBA office if Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert gets what he’s seeking – evidence that Pat Riley’s greatest accomplishment was a violation of league tampering rules.

Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday that Gilbert has hired a law firm to investigate whether the Heat’s signing of free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh this past summer was tampering. While Cavaliers officials have privately stewed for months that James’ departure for Miami didn’t pass the tampering test, they have publicly maintained that they’ve moved on. This is the first evidence that Gilbert, who lashed out at James in an infamous screed after “The Decision” was announced on July 8, has not let it go.

“They’re not going to let this die,” a source told Yahoo! Sports, which reported that Gilbert already has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the probe in his quest to provide “a thick binder of findings” to commissioner David Stern.

The NBA does not investigate tampering allegations without an official charge filed by a team, and such cases are exceedingly difficult to prove. On several occasions, Stern has publicly defended players’ right to speak amongst themselves about on- and off-court issues, but after the Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas in July, the commissioner said he would look into tampering charges if any were brought.

Gilbert’s plan now appears to be to bring them, with the issue coming to a head on the eve of James' first game in Cleveland as a member of the Heat.

It is widely known that James, Wade and Bosh began plotting their futures as early as 2006, when all three signed short extensions that gave them the ability to opt out and become free agents in 2010. Their bond was solidified when they teamed up to win the gold medal at the Beijng Olympics in 2008, and any negotiating barriers for their services were eliminated once Creative Artists Agency bought the agencies that represented the three players.

None of that would be against NBA rules, which prohibit team officials from recruiting players under contract with other teams but put no such restrictions on players. But published reports previously have detailed a November 2009 meeting involving Riley, James and Michael Jordan during a Cavs trip to play the Heat. The Cavs did not make an issue of the meeting, sources say, because they did not want to come across as overly sensitive about James’ potential departure – and also because key organizational figures never believed he would leave.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer , Wade and Bosh flew to Akron to meet with James at his home in late June. That meeting, and another one that same month in Chicago allegedly involving Wade and members of James’ inner circle, also will come under scrutiny in the Cavs’ probe. All three players were still under contract with their teams until midnight on July 1.

The nature of those meetings, however, only underscores how difficult it will be to prove wrongdoing. The alleged Akron meeting among players would seem to fall under Stern’s edict not to investigate players for speaking with one another about their future plans. The meeting in Chicago, where the agent for Wade and Bosh, Henry Thomas, is based, would be difficult to characterize as anything more than a business meeting among clients and their shared representative. Even if James’ associates – or James himself – were involved, James is represented by the same agency (though by a different agent, Leon Rose.)

Speculation and sour grapes, however, could be transformed into tampering evidence if Gilbert’s lawyers are able to unearth any evidence that members of the Heat organization were involved in any capacity in these or other meetings and conversations. In non-sports businesses, where tampering is known as “tortious interference,” such proof is obtained through phone records (including email and text messages) and by subpoenaing witnesses to testify under oath. But a person familiar with the NBA’s past pursuit of tampering charges – such as those between the Knicks and Heat over Riley himself in the 1990s – said it’s unlikely that league officials would have the same authority as the civil courts to carry out such practices.

The NBA declined to comment through a league spokesman because no tampering charges have been furnished to the league office.

Just as the Cavs passed on the opportunity to file a complaint with the league office over the alleged meeting with Riley in November 2009, the team also did not take legal action after James announced his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. At the time, sports law experts told CBSSports.com that the Cavs could have asked a federal judge for an injunction to stop James from negotiating with the Heat. They probably wouldn’t have been able to stop him from going, but by bringing the case to a court of law, they would’ve had subpoenas at their disposal as a tool to prove their case.

This effort may be too little, too late.
Posted on: December 1, 2010 2:53 pm
 

Post-Ups

When LeBron James struts to the scorer's table in Cleveland Thursday night and tosses his customary talc in the air -- to a vicious chorus of boos or derisive laughter -- all eyes will be on how the prodigal son responds to being a pariah on the court he used to own.

That's fine. It's a story -- a big one by NBA regular season standards -- and one that will be examined ad nauseum during the relentless news cycle that follows.

I happen to have some context when it comes to Cleveland sports misery, and also boiling Cleveland sports bile. As a writer for the Associated Press, I sat in the press box at then-Jacobs Field for former Indians hero Albert Belle's return after signing a free-agent contract with the White Sox. The atmosphere was venomous, to say the least. I was also on hand for a much sadder, more poignant moment when the contents of doomed Municipal Stadium were auctioned to teary-eyed fans after Art Modell hijacked the beloved Browns and schlepped them to Baltimore. Among the items up for bidding that day, appropriately enough, was the commode from Modell's office.

Not to bore you with my life story, but I was also in the press box in Miami when Jose Mesa vomited away what would've been Cleveland's first pro sports championship in four decades in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. Visions of Edgar Renteria and Craig Counsell dance in my head to this day.

I don't come from Cleveland; I only lived there for two of the best years of my life as a sports writer. But I think I can safely speak for the good people of Northeast Ohio when I say that James leaving the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat was worse than all of the above.

There is vibrant debate in the LeBron-o-sphere about how Cleveland fans should treat him Thursday night. Gregg Doyel, a proud Ohioan, pleads for Clevelanders to comport themselves with dignity and not make LeBron the victim. Point well-taken. Others say screw that ; give the traitor all the venom that he's got coming to him. Knowing how much sports heartache that city has endured over the decades, I can understand that point, too.

There's a movement afoot to have 20,000 people laugh hysterically at LeBron when he's introduced, and various chants have been scripted for when he touches the ball, checks into the game, or steps to the foul line. Kudos for creativity on those. But here's what I'd like to see. Here's what I think would be the appropriate response: When the Heat are introduced, and specifically when LeBron is introduced, turn your backs on the court and don't make a sound. Not even a whisper. The silent treatment and reverse ovation will be spookier than any alternative, and would haunt your former hero for at least 48 minutes and maybe months. Then, turn around and enjoy the game. Even in a place that has, um, witnessed its share of disappointments, it is still just a game, after all.

And with that, we move on to the rest of this week's Post-Ups:

* Lost in all the hysteria over LeBump and LeCoup attempt on coach Erik Spoelstra this week is the question of what Spoelstra can do with his lineups to improve Miami's performance on the floor. With help from adjusted plus-minus guru Wayne Winston , I dug into the lineups Spoelstra has used this season and came to some interesting conclusions.

The problem doesn't appear to be LeBron and Wade playing together; it's who's on the floor with them that makes a difference. In lineups with both LeBron and Wade, the Heat have outscored the opponent by 61 points. With LeBron only, they're plus-38, and with Wade only they're plus-21. (They're minus-14 with neither, for what it's worth.)

Spoelstra's most frequently used lineup -- the starting lineup of Wade, James, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony and Carlos Arroyo-- has outscored the opponent by 36 points over 133 minutes. According to Winston, that lineup plays 14.55 points better than average. In other words, those five players would beat an average NBA lineup by 14 points over 48 minutes.

When Spoelstra subs Zydrunas Ilgauskas for Anthony in his second-most used lineup, that number goes down to 2.65 points better than average and Miami is plus-6. What happens when the Heat play without a point guard proves the point I've been harping on all along: Whether he likes it or not, LeBron needs to be the point guard on this team.

By far, Miami's best lineup with James and Wade (and with at least 30 appearances) is one without a true point guard. The Supertwins plus Bosh, Udonis Haslem (currently injured), and James Jones is 44.19 points better than average and outscoring opponents by 29 points in 43 minutes. If anything, Spoelstra should have been using that lineup more often; despite the assumption that Jones' suspect defense is an issue, that lineup is comparable defensively to the starting unit featuring Arroyo and Anthony instead of Jones and Haslem.

Without Haslem, Spoelstra still has an effective option with James and Wade and no true point guard on the floor. But to this point, he's only used this combination 13 times for a total of 17 minutes: James, Wade, Bosh, Ilgauskas and Jones are 45.81 points better than average and plus-15.

The point-guard problem is underscored when Spoelstra uses another point guard other than Arroyo. For example, of the four lineups Spoelstra has used with James, Wade and Eddie House, three of them are awful -- the worst being a lineup of James, Wade, Haslem, Ilgauskas and House, which is 46.99 points worse than average and minus-8.

The bottom line: Aside from using LeBron as a point guard more frequently, you can't really argue too much with the combinations Spoelstra has used most often. LeBron is the one player capable of tailoring his game to the needs of the team, and if he does, that will help Wade emerge from his funk and get the Heat playing like a Super Team instead of a Blooper Team.

* Brendan Haywood's agent, Andy Miller, told CBSSports.com that his client's one-game suspension enforced Friday against the Spurs was for "an isolated incident. ... It's over, and we're moving forward." One person familiar with the situation called it a "flare-up" and a "misunderstanding" between Haywood and coach Rick Carlisle that did not involve minutes or playing time. The relationship between Haywood and Carlisle is not in need of being addressed further, the source said. Haywood logged only 7:58 against Miami in his return Saturday night, but got more than 21 minutes Monday night against Houston -- the Mavericks' sixth straight win.

* As we touched on during preseason , Magic GM Otis Smith was presented a trade proposal involving Gilbert Arenas and Vince Carter this past summer, and despite Smith's close relationship with Arenas, he turned it down. Sources have continued to believe that the Wizards would only be able to trade Arenas if and when he proved he was healthy and in a positive place emotionally after the ruinous 50-game suspension he incurred last season. To the Wizards' delight, that has finally happened. Since being reinserted into the starting lineup eight games ago, Arenas has been consistently exceeding 30 minutes a night and has scored at least 20 points in five of those games. While the Magic have let it be known that they're willing to make a big deal if it involves trading anyone except Dwight Howard, sources say there has been no movement on the Arenas front since the aforementioned discussions fell apart.

* The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Tuesday that an attendance clause believed to have lapsed in the team's arena lease with the state actually still exists . That means the Hornets, currently 25th in the NBA in attendance despite their 12-5 start, would be permitted to start the relocation wheels spinning by breaking their lease unless they average at least 14,213 for the next 13 games. Team president Hugh Weber reaffirmed the team's commitment to New Orleans in the article, but stopped short of unequivocally stating that the team would not use the clause to break the lease. One reason: It would cost the team $10 million. Another: New ownership would be wise to consider such a move. If the Hornets are struggling now, with inspired play from Chris Paul and a giant-killer mentality instilled by new coach Monty Williams, just imagine how bad the attendance would be if the team was forced to trade Paul after a lockout.

* As we close in on Dec. 15, when numerous free agents signed over the summer become trade-eligible, rival executives have privately started wondering if the Heat would consider parting with one of their Big Three if it meant fielding a more complete team. The face-saving option to trade and the most easily obtainable, executives say, would be Chris Bosh. In fact, one executive speaking on condition of anonymity wondered how it would alter Denver's reluctance to trade Carmelo Anthony if the Heat offered a package centered around Bosh. The Nuggets, according to the executive, might prefer an established star in the low post as opposed to Derrick Favors, an unproven rookie. It's fun speculation, but highly unlikely. Aside from the embarrassment associated with breaking up the ballyhooed Big Three in Miami, the rub would be cost; executives continue to believe that if Denver deals Anthony and/or Chauncey Billups before the February deadline, it will be in a major cost-cutting deal.

* Meanwhile, as the Melo turns, executives are becoming more convinced that Anthony would not agree to an extension with the Nets -- a stance that could kill New Jersey's months-long bid for the superstar once and for all. Having attended a recent Nets game in Newark, which might as well be Russia as far as native New Yorker Anthony is concerned, I concur. Melo is interested in starring in a Broadway show -- or a nearby, off-Broadway equivalent. Had the Nets' move to Brooklyn not been sabotaged by lawsuits and New York City government paralysis, that would've made a huge difference. But Newark is Newark, and I believe Melo is headed elsewhere.
 
 
 
 
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