LeBron James is looking and performing like a Most Valuable Player and when you factor in the NBA’s new superstar-friendly schedule the time is right for LeBron to reclaim his official place as the NBA’s best player.
As for winning the unofficial title of Executive of the Year let’s just say that LeBron has some work to do. Or more precisely, Dwyane Wade has got a lot of work to do.
It was LeBron who recruited his good buddy Wade to the Cleveland Cavaliers after Wade negotiated a buyout with the Chicago Bulls last month. The move makes sense from this standpoint: the Cavs will have another experienced closer when they face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Anyone who remembers Deron Williams struggling to make open shots last June knows that Wade is a better, more trusted option.
But while Wade makes sense in April, May and June his arrival has created problems as opposed to providing solutions. The Cavs traded Richard Jefferson, a respected veteran with a strong locker-room presence, to create a roster spot. Then J.R. Smith was initially demoted from the starting lineup to create a spot for Wade which didn’t sit well with Smith.
Wade, however, struggled and reportedly went to Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue and “volunteered” to move to the bench.
“Yeah right, I love the way they spun it,” Brendan Haywood, LeBron’s former teammate in Cleveland, said on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “This is basically protecting Dwyane Wade’s ego.”
Wade has never been a back-up but he is a better fit as a sixth man because he’ll have more opportunities to be a playmaker.
Plus, Smith is the better three-point shooter and defender. Starting Derrick Rose and Wade was a recipe for failure because neither Rose nor Wade is a reliable outside threat. Last season, Wade made 45 three-pointers and Rose had just 13. By comparison, Stephen Curry made 324 three’s.
The Cavs, who host the Knicks on Sunday, are the clear favorites in the East but they’re still experimenting. Lue used his fourth different starting lineup for Saturday’s game in New Orleans; LeBron, Rose, Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.
The odd man out is Jae Crowder, who along with Isaiah Thomas, was acquired from Boston in the Kyrie Irving trade.
“I’ve been open to change because we haven’t found our groove yet,” Crowder said. “We’re still searching for answers to see how we can get games rolling in our favor. So I’m open to whatever the team wants me to do, because at the end of the day we’re trying to reach a goal.”
Thomas, sidelined with a hip injury, isn’t expected to return until January at the earliest and when he does that will create another “problem” for Lue. Of course, it’s a problem most coaches, with the exception of Steve Kerr, would love to have.
“It’s just a learning curve that you have to go through when you’re adding a new group, and I don’t want it easy, anyways,” James said. “I don’t like for it to be easy. I like the challenge.”
Maybe Phil Jackson was on to something when he identified Lauri Markkanen as a potential target for the Knicks in last June’s NBA Draft. You may remember that Jackson held a clandestine meeting with Markkanen days before the draft, leading to speculation that the Knicks were trying to trade Kristaps Porzingis to the Boston Celtics for young players and draft picks.
That deal never materialized and the Knicks, selecting eighth overall, never got the chance to draft Markkanen who was taken seventh by Minnesota and traded to the Chicago Bulls.
The 7-footer from Finland who played at Arizona has gotten off to a strong start and impressed LeBron.
“Had to say up very late to watch those Arizona games, but very confident kid,” James said. “(He) can shoot the heck of the ball. He’s going to continue to get better. The best thing about it is he’s getting an opportunity. So you can make mistakes and learn on the fly. But he’s going to play a lot because he’s learning. He’s a good player.”
Markkanen, who called LeBron’s compliment “awesome”, also has a connection to another NBA champion. Markkanen wears No. 24 but before he accepted the jersey he asked Celtics broadcaster and SiriusXM NBA analyst Brian Scalabrine for permission.
“I told him, “of course, you can be the Finnish Mamba,” Scalabrine, referring to his nickname White Mamba, told the Chicago Tribune. Scalabrine played two seasons and 46 games for the Bulls.
Coincidentally, Scalabrine ran Markkanen’s workout with the Celtics and joked “If you can make all 20 corner three’s the Celtics will take you No. 1 overall.” After missing the first, Markkanen drained the next 19.
Frank Vogel, who was under consideration to become Knicks coach two summers ago, has guided the Orlando Magic to the best record in the Eastern Conference following Friday’s 114-87 win over the San Antonio Spurs. The Magic (4-1) led by as many as 36 against the previously unbeaten Spurs. One week earlier, the Magic built a 37-point lead over Cleveland.
The Clippers’ Blake Griffin has been outstanding thus far in the post-Chris Paul era. If the injury-prone Griffin can play in 75-plus games, he’ll be in the running for MVP.
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry says he was interested in joining the Spurs last summer but there was one problem: the Spurs weren’t interested in Lowry, who eventually re-signed with the Raptors.
“It was real for me,” Lowry told the San Antonio Express-News, “but it wasn’t real for them. That’s a part of the business that people don’t know. I would have loved to come here, but it didn’t work out. The conversation didn’t happen. If the conversation happened, I would tell you. But it didn’t happen.”
How long before the Lakers grow tired of having to answer for the silly things Lonzo Ball’s father says?