NBA

LeBron James, Lakers embark on arduous process with a thud

LeBron James, Lakers embark on arduous process with a thud

LeBron James on Thursday night delivered a nifty, no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass that helped define his unique court vision and knack for finding the open man amid the frenzied chaos of a NBA basketball game. 

Only this time not one of James' new Los Angeles Lakers teammates stood in the path of his offering that ultimately went out of bounds for a turnover during a 128-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.

"I expected (Kyle Kuzma] to pop and he rolled," James said.

Such bumbling, and there were several, illustrate the chasm between where the Lakers are and where they want to end up. This is what happens when you take one of the greatest players of all time and stick him in the middle of a team filled with veteran castoffs and young players with boundless potential but very little in the way of tangible preparedness to play on James' level. 

So went the debut of LeBron James 4.0. The most hyped free agent since his last go around at this four years ago, is attempting to revive one of the NBA's most storied franchises in what would be his greatest trick ever should he help deliver a 17th NBA title to the Lakers and first since 2010. 

It's a journey that is going to take time. So much so that the Lakers, including James and coach Luke Walton, expressed zero shock at Thursday night's outcome or in how inconsistently they performed. It appeared almost as if each player almost expected the pot holes and speed bumps that made their regular season debut together go anything but smoothly. 

Patience is going to be the word of the day everyday until the Lakers figure this thing out. 

"That's all I've been preaching since the season started, since we got to work that it's going to take patience from our team, from all of us," James said. "Just to figure out one another. Figure out what we're good at. Figure out what we're not so good at. How we can be better at it."

James, not known for his patience in such situations, might need to exercise more than he ever has before, and do so knowing that at age 33 his basketball biological clock is ticking. 

During his first stint with Cleveland (version 1.0) that began in 2003, James, then 19, was the youngster asked to carry a team unworthy of his greatness. He did so to one finals appearance that ended in a sweep to San Antonio. The second incarnation (2.0) occurred in Miami where James, 26, orchestrated the union of himself and peers, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, leading to two NBA titles, but only after the Heat failed miserably in a finals loss to Dallas. Seeking redemption for ditching his home state team, James returned to Cleveland at age 30 to lead a younger set of stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to a title (3.0). Now with the Lakers (4.0), James, 33, finds himself attempting to help raise an even younger core group dotted with some strategically selected veterans void of much past success in terms of winning other than point guard Rajon Rondo. 

So, James, how long will this chemistry experiment take to reach fruition?

"Not as fast as you guys think it's going to happen," he said. "I always kind of compare it to instant oatmeal. It's not that fast. It takes a while for the chemistry to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are."

We saw glimpses Thursday of where the team hopes to be but with more regularity and production. These Lakers want to run just like their president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers did in the 1980s while winning five NBA titles. Los Angeles produced 34 fast break points against the Blazers with two coming off of a steal and dunk by James early in the game. 

"Great pace," reserve guard Josh Hart said. "We like playing at that pace."

This team is certainly built to do so. 

James, of course, is a fearless, powerful, yet graceful open-floor force. Point guards Lonzo Ball and Rondo like to propel the action forward.  Kuzma and Brandon Ingram can certainly fill lanes and finish. However, the team shot horribly from three-point range (7 of 30), but Walton said he was cool with the looks the team got and expects those shots to fall as the season goes along. Defensively, the team was a mess, botching rotations through poor feel and communication. The rebounding also needs work.

"We had some good, we had some bad, which is expected for a game one," James said. 

Nothing that went down alarmed Walton.  

"First game," he said. "We'll be able to learn a lot from that."

The number one lesson of all will be how to play with James. Please James. Satisfy James. Live up to James' expectations. Essentially, be what James needs them to be in order to win. 

The younger players already recognize the impact of having a dynamic and intelligent player such as James on the court drawing attention from defenses while also being more than willing to share the ball. 

"It gives me easier baskets," Ingram said. "It puts me in better spots around the basket. He gets me easier shots than I've ever had before."

Said Ball, "It makes it easy because everybody is focused on him. We're the supporting cast...We get open shots. It's not really hard to play with him."

For this program to flourish, James must take the clear reverence these young players have for him and use his influence to bring them along at the proper pace. The trick is that, for example, Ball and Ingram are far less advanced than Irving and Love were when James returned to Cleveland. 

"It's still early," James said. "We're literally less than a month in...We've got to go through some things. Go through some adversity and see how guys react to it. See what gets guys going."

Walton, just 28, will likely lean on James through this process. 

"I'm glad he's on our team. He's pretty good at the game of basketball," Walton said with a smile. "The way he can kind of control and lead from the court, it's impressive."

Walton also expressed admiration for how well James engaged with the younger players. 

"He keeps the guys calm, especially on the road in a hostile environment when the other team is going on a run he has a calming way about him," Walton said.

James remaining calm will allow this team to work through its issues without feeling overwhelmed. He said the best teacher is experience, of which he has more than everyone else on the team by far. The key, he said, is not expecting excellence overnight while still demanding the team's pursuit of excellence on a daily basis.

"You control what you can control and what I can control is how I lead these guys and how I prepare everyday," James said. "I come in with a championship mindset and preaching and practicing excellence every day. I believe that will wear off [on the team]."

Magic Johnson has said that he constructed this team to be good in the playoffs by being capable of running, playing defense and letting James close. An eye toward the 2019 postseason is the goal, not looking sharp in what remains of 2018. James said he would constantly preach patience and following the process to his team until, it all comes together.  

"You'll know when it happens," James said. 

If it does, these Lakers could be something to behold. 

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How the NBA explains away all of those missed traveling calls

How the NBA explains away all of those missed traveling calls

The NBA has decided it is going to attempt to clarify its traveling rules very soon but the rules haven’t changed – the league is just going to attempt to further explain a rule that seems to be different than what’s called a travel at all other levels of basketball.

At the heart of the matter is what the league calls “the gather” – the time when a player finishes his dribble and begins a drive to the basket. The NBA allows players to gather the ball before its referees begin to count that player’s steps. The result is a situation like this, which appears to everybody who has ever played the game as a flagrant travel – but isn’t by NBA rule.

The league’s long and lean players are taking advantage of this rule, of course. They move so fast that very often humans can’t really ascertain in real time when the “gather” ends and the dribble should begin. Combine that with the league’s desire to keep its game moving and not clutter it with too many whistles and you get some uncalled travels. And then, of course, there’s the James Harden step-back move, which has become controversial because he certainly appears to be traveling before shooting.

My personal definition has always had to do with keeping track of a player’s pivot foot. As you shoot or pass, you’re allowed to lift that foot and as long as it doesn’t hit the ground before you unload the ball. That’s not traveling, at any level of basketball. It’s why young players are taught to jump stop – land on both feet at the same time – so that they can use either foot as their pivot foot.

Beyond that -- in spite of the NBA’s explanation of its “gather” – it’s still a mystery to me in the NBA. It’s so difficult to find that “gather” that I’ve given up. And I’m sticking to the opinion I’ve had since 2009, when I first heard about this gather thing – it’s just something the NBA made up to justify some of its players taking an extra step.

Why is Gregg Popovich escaping criticism for Team USA failure?

Why is Gregg Popovich escaping criticism for Team USA failure?

The U.S. men’s basketball team dropped its second straight game at the FIBA championships and the excuses are flying.

Of course, the No. 1 alibi is that we didn’t send our best players. And that’s true. The best of the NBA would rather wait for a chance at an Olympic medal than waste a summer chasing a championship that didn’t even find its way to network television in this country. And I don’t blame them.

But it’s not as if we didn’t send very good players to China for this tournament. Only Mason Plumlee on this roster was not an NBA starter and there was a projected NBA payroll of $265 million for these guys.

Sorry, but no other team over there could feature talent of that magnitude.

So let me take a different path of trying to explain this problem. For one thing, doesn’t it seem that very few of our international teams have enough outside shooting to take advantage of the international three-point line? For years, other countries have sagged off in some form of zone defense as our teams struggled to make outside shots and couldn’t execute zone-breakers that some high-school teams can handle.

Yes, I think the selection process has been flawed for a long time, still enamored with spectacular dunkers and drivers, rather than pure shooters – even if they aren’t among the league’s high-priced endorsers.

And one other thing, how does Gregg Popovich escape unscathed? Why is there never any criticism of how he handled the team’s preparation or roster? Apparently Pop the Great is above all that.

He certainly couldn’t find many answers with this team, other than using smaller and smaller lineups. I don’t think Team USA was prepared for the situation. And that usually falls on the coach, doesn’t it?

NBA players have always had significant control over their career

NBA players have always had significant control over their career

Much is being made these days about the players in the NBA gaining more control over their careers than ever before.

The recent buzz about it started with Anthony Davis demanding New Orleans trade him – and not only deal him but telling the team WHERE to trade him. And then it really blew up when Kawhi Leonard landed with the Los Angeles Clippers and Paul George bailed out of Oklahoma City to join him.

For the most part, fans seem to be in favor of this, even though it’s another step toward the problem of three or four big-market franchises dominating the league.

I think fans have become more sympathetic to the players lately for several reasons. No. 1, owning an NBA team is big business and nobody is a fan of big business in this era. And players, of course, are perceived as employees – just like you and me. Working stiffs, you know.

Often, I hear reasonable people’s empathy toward players based on them coming out of college and being subject to a draft – meaning they have no choice of where they will live and work and that they must go where they’re told, if traded.

This, of course, in an era where a lot of non-basketball-playing people have very little to say about their own employment. I see a lot of young people exiting college these days with very few options. And in order to get a job they want, they are faced with very difficult choices about relocation, salary or – in many cases – taking a position they are over-qualified for at a low salary. Sometimes, too, they are forced to transfer to another location in order to keep their job. And if they are lucky enough to get a two- or three-year contract, it can often be voided if they underperform or get on the wrong side of a new boss.

Not so with NBA players. They get every penny of every dollar owed them, no matter what. And sometimes, the teams paying that money can’t say they are getting their money’s worth in return.

Meanwhile, working conditions for NBA players are collectively bargained. If the players don’t like the rules, they have the opportunity to do something about it when their agreement expires. Their union is stronger than yours, I bet, and we will see that in the next CBA negotiation – which promises to be contentious.

But, of course, the players have other options, which they have long employed.

You think NBA players haven’t been able to dictate trades for decades? You think they haven’t been able to get out of contracts at times? Well, they have.

And the old-fashioned way was a form of brutal blackmail.

In previous eras, players had the power to have their contracts renegotiated or just torn up and replaced with new ones. If you had a bad year, you just sat back quietly and collected your guaranteed money. But if you had a great year – or a player not as talented as you got more money than your contract called for -- you knocked on the team’s door and demanded a new deal.

And you had plenty of leverage.

If they didn’t pay you, you just quit on them. Yes, that’s right, you either sat out with a mysterious injury nobody could find or you simply gave less than 100 percent effort. What choice did the team have? And for old-school teams that tried to hold the line on “a deal’s a deal,” they could be torn apart by dissension. The rapid decline of Portland’s one and only NBA championship team was almost as much about players wanting new contracts as it was about injuries.

Even in today’s NBA, “requests” by players to be traded are often accompanied by an implied threat that if a deal doesn’t happen, the player will not be happy enough to give his best effort.

Folks, the players have always held all the cards, they just don’t always decide to play them.

The paying customers don’t buy merchandise with the owners’ picture on the front. I get that. But if your team is located in Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Orlando, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Memphis … or yes, Portland, you should also understand that a league retaining some control over competitive balance is to your team’s advantage. Ultimately, it’s to the league’s advantage.

The big markets -- and the superstars who want to play in them -- already have enough advantages.

Lillard supports Carmelo Anthony farewell campaign

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IMAGN

Lillard supports Carmelo Anthony farewell campaign

Ten All-Star appearances, six All-NBA teams, three Olympic Gold medal teams… Despite his status as one of the best scorers ever, which includes Carmelo Anthony cannot find an NBA team willing to sign him. 

At 35 years old, Anthony is certainly no longer in his prime, but he does have some gas left in the tank.   

Since his trade from the Houston Rockets and subsequent release by the Chicago Bulls, Anthony has not seen NBA action since a November 8 matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

There were rumblings Carmelo would join the LA Lakers last season. That didn’t pan out. Neither did a possible return to the Rockets or Bulls. 

The journeyman may have just become untouchable. 

A major reason for Anthony not being employed is due to the perception that he is unwilling to accept a lesser role in his mind. 

In an interview with “The Breakfast Club”, famous NBA trainer Chris Brickley said he believes that Anthony is “easily better than 60%, 70% of the NBA players walking around.” Brickley is the skills trainer of a multitude of NBA stars, including Anthony and Blazers guard CJ McCollum.

“He just wants to have a final season, a farewell season... do what D-Wade did. He had a great career. He’s a hall of famer, so hopefully that can happen.”

Like Brickley, many NBA players believe that Anthony deserves to be in the league, include Blazers superstar guard Damian Lillard, who vouched for “Melo’s” place in professional basketball yesterday in a series of tweets.

Each of the past two seasons, both Lillard and McCollum have seemed to actively recruit Anthony to Portland, especially in 2017 when Anthony was on the New York Knicks.

With many rosters around the league filling out, however, it’s uncertain whether Anthony will get the chance for a farewell season.

The Breakdown: Lillard goes off in Orlando

The Breakdown: Lillard goes off in Orlando

Damian Lillard had a lot of excellent moments over the course of this past season, but we were treated to a look into his future way back on Oct. 25, 2018, when he scored 41 points against the Orlando Magic in a win in Central Florida.

Lillard added a bunch of things to his bag over the course of last summer, and those were on full display against the Magic in just the fourth game of the young season. It was apparent that Lillard was craftier around the hoop, with his up-and-under move becoming more difficult to contest.

Although Orlando ended up being the 8th-best defensive team in the NBA, the Oct. 25 matchup saw Lillard put a whupping on DJ Augustin, Nikola Vucevic, and the young Orlando big men in the pick-and-roll.

Augustin received the brunt of Lillard's ire. He defended Lillard on 44 possessions in that game, allowing him to score 16 points while shooting 50% on 3-pointers. That was aided by the fact that the younger Magic big men were not ready to defend Lillard confidently.

 

When the Magic switched Jerian Grant onto Lillard, it didn't do much help. In the end, size didn't sway the Blazers star off his path of destruction in Central Florida. Combined with excellent passing and much-needed defensive rebounding, Lillard's 41-point outburst was one of his best games of the season.


Check out the third video in our mini-series produced this summer where we wind back the clock and dissect some of the best moments of the magical 2018-19 Blazers season. 

 

Rip City and the NBA world wish Damian Lillard happy birthday

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NBCSNW

Rip City and the NBA world wish Damian Lillard happy birthday

July 15, 1990, the G.O.A.T was born in Oakland, California. He was later given the name Damian Lamonte Ollie Lillard. 29 years later he is a Rip City legend. 

In his seven seasons in Portland he was has been named to four NBA All-Star teams, is a four-time All-NBA selection, and was 2013 Rookie of the Year. Not to mention the countless game winners he has hit along the way, including two series ending buzzer beaters in the playoffs. 

29 years ago today the legend was born, and today the fans, his teammates, and the entire NBA world took to social media to wish Lillard a very happy birthday.  

 

Zion didn't cause that earthquake in Vegas but he had some ferocious dunks

Zion didn't cause that earthquake in Vegas but he had some ferocious dunks

LAS VEGAS – It was a happening. A big event – which this city loves.

And even with an earthquake that stopped the game with 7:53 left, the fans probably got what they came to see:

A few Zion Williamson thunderdunks.

The Thomas & Mack Center has been sold out for a week in anticipation of a Summer League game between the Knicks and Pelicans featuring several players who won’t even sniff an NBA roster this season. Or ever.

But it was also the very first professional game – a non-counting one, at that – for the league's No. 1 draft choice. And the fans greeted him with huge ovations for every dunk in the layup line during warmups and everything he did during the game.

Alas, they got him for only nine minutes and 10 seconds. He suffered a knee-to-knee contusion during the first half and didn’t play after intermission.

Williamson – or should we just go with the one-name thing now and call him Zion? – is one of the most interesting players I’ve ever seen in the NBA. He’s listed at 6-7 and 285 pounds on the New Orleans Pelicans’ roster but in person he doesn’t look that tall. Some say he’s just not in basketball shape at this time and he did seem stockier than I expected.

Given all that, he’s crazy athletic. He’s quick, can handle the ball some and is a ferocious dunker – the attribute that people seem to most want to see from him.

There aren’t many guys with his body type who have made it big in the NBA. Charles Barkley is the one he’s most-often compared with but my recollection is that Barkley had longer arms and did a better job of creating space for himself under the boards.

Now keep in mind, this is off just a few minutes of a summer-league game and he’s playing with a bunch of guys who don’t have NBA skills and probably just three or four days of practice together.

All that matters.

During his 9:10 on the court, Zion hit 4 of his 9 shots, nothing from any range at all, went 0-2 from three and 3-6 from the foul line. He had three rebounds and finished with a minus-15 plus-minus --- the worst of any player on the court. All of that means nothing, of course, but I do have some questions about him that will be answered this season:

Is he going to be a good rebounder? You would think so, because he’s so aggressive and bouncy. But during this game people were grabbing boards over the top of him and he’s going to have some adjusting to do to the size of NBA players.

Can he guard people? Not sure. Couldn’t tell in this game but with his toughness and quickness, he should be able to do it. I would also say he’s going to get a lot of calls from the officials. Star players do and he’s already perceived as a star.

Can he stay healthy? He’s going to have to get into shape or he’s probably going to have some injuries. This is an 82-game slog he's headed for and he’s going to be carrying a heavy load for the Pelicans.

Time, not the summer league, will tell.

He’s fun to watch, that’s for sure. Too bad we didn’t get to see more of him.

Report: NBA may allow coaches challenge in 2019-2020 season

Report: NBA may allow coaches challenge in 2019-2020 season

Way back in 1999 the NFL decided to add the coaches challenge to the game a football. The ability for the coach to question a call, and perhaps get it overturned, has since become a staple of the game. Now, some 20 years later, the NBA looks to be jumping on board the replay review wagon.

According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the NBA will allow coaches challenges during Summer League, and then plans a one-year pilot program for the 2019-2020 regular season. 

According to Lowe, a memo was sent out to all 30 NBA teams early Friday morning. The memo lays out some ground rules for coaches challenges, such as:
 - Coaches are allowed one challenge per game, and lose it regardless if the challenge is successful or not. 
- Coaches can only challenge called fouls, basket interference, out of bounds calls, and goaltending. 
- Coaches must have a timeout available to use a challenge, and must call the timeout before signaling for the challenge. Timeout must be called immediately after the event in question.
- If the challenge is successful, the team gets the timeout back. If it is unsuccessful, they lose the timeout.

The use of the review program in the NBA has yet to officially be approved. It will need two-thirds of the league to approve it in a formal vote before the board of governors on July 9th. According to the memo, "based on the feedback we have received, we expect it to be adopted." 

The memo also states the league will be bringing the G League's "transition take foul" to Summer League. The rule penalizes intentional fouls that interrupt a fast break, but aren't considered clear path fouls. Under this rule, the fouled team would be awarded one free throw and retain possession of the ball. This rule will be adopted for Summer League only and there doesn't appear to be any plans to bring it to the NBA level at this time. 

 

Outsiders: John Sabine - The great unknown draft prospect

Outsiders: John Sabine - The great unknown draft prospect

We all have dreams. Some big, some small, but dreams the same. Now one of our friends in Chicago is trying to live his - make it in the NBA.

John Sabine has officially entered his name in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Who is John Sabine you ask? Sabine is a fellow Outsider, co-host of Bulls Outsiders in Chicago. He's short by NBA standards, he's slow by any standards, and his strength measurables leave much to be desired. But hey, they also said Kevin Durant was too weak when he entered the NBA and that hasn't hurt him one bit. 

Sabine is laying it all on the line to live the dream. Will an NBA team take the risk and draft him? You can always coach him up and fix his skillset. One thing you can't teach is leadership. By all accounts, Sabine is a class act. The perfect locker room guy. He's not the water boy, but if someone needs a quick drink he won't hesitate to jump up and grab the Gatorade. He's a team-first guy. Sometimes it's that mentality in the team huddle that helps get the squad over the hump.

At the very, very least one of these 30 NBA should at least sign Sabine to their Summer League squad. Everything to gain, nothing to lose. 

Sabine is dreaming, and dreaming big. Here's to hoping he lands on an NBA roster. Just think of the future documentary potential! These are the stories made for TV movies are made of. 

Our Blazers Outsiders took the time to breakdown some of Sabine's training film and you can hear their analysis in the video above.