December 27, 2010
LeBron James(notes) never wanted the NBA to contract, he swears now. On top of that, he wants you to know that he never even knew what the word "contraction" meant, until the media went into uproar-mode after LeBron spent a good chunk of a press discussion last week talking about contraction.
Confused? So is LeBron. So are all of us.
ESPN Miami's Michael Wallace was the first to transcribe James' ... mea culpa?
"That's crazy, because I had no idea what the word 'contraction' meant before I saw it on the Internet," James said after the Miami Heat's practice Monday. "I never even mentioned that. That word never even came out of my mouth. I was just saying how the league was back in the '80s and how it could be good again. I never said, 'Let's take some of the teams out.'"
You can't ask people to stop talking. But you're not unreasonable to ask people to know what they're talking about before they start talking. Or, at the very least, know the definition of the word that best describes what they're talking about, before they start talking.
For instance, English is Nets owner Mikhail Prokorov's second language. But I would at least hope, were he to publicly float some idea on record about teams banding together unofficially to limit or even freeze salaries during the offseason, that he would know what the word "collusion" means. That's also what the NBA is going to do this summer, cancelling all the bad contracts it legally signed with players in good faith as it locks the players out of getting the checks the owners are legally required to send their way, but that's another story altogether.
But when LeBron James tells a pool of reporters that, as a man about to turn 26 years old, he doesn't even know what the word "contraction" means? Then he's either being duplicitous, or daft.
"Imagine if you could take Kevin Love(notes) off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the [league]. Looking at some of the teams that aren't that great, you take Brook Lopez(notes) or you take Devin Harris(notes) off these teams that aren't that good right now and you add him to a team that could be really good.
"I'm not saying let's take New Jersey and let's take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid, I'm not stupid, it would be great for the league."
It's pretty stupid, LeBron.
[Related: LeBron James protests Christmas schedule]
To "shrink the [league]" means to lose teams. You can't "shrink the [league]" without taking New Jersey or Minnesota out of the league. I understand your sense of entitlement allows you to try and have it both ways with just about everything, but it just doesn't work that way.
I didn't touch on James' ideas last week because it made my brain hurt. It was the sort of talk that you have to hear at a bar in a chain restaurant in an airport while you wait for your plane to board, and not something you'd like to hear from someone who makes his living in the NBA.
Players are better than they were 25 years ago. Sorry, but they are. For all the talk about how the kids can't shoot and only dunk, understand that shooting percentages from long range are better than they've ever been, and the league almost set a record for free-throw percentage last year as players get better and smarter and faster and work longer hours.
Player shortcomings are held up for all to see on cable, Direct TV, the Internet, and on sites like this. Eddy Curry(notes) would be getting minutes, in 1985. Nobody gets away with the sort of non-Magic, non-Larry play that we used to see tons of 25 years ago, and for anyone that thinks any differently, watch a YouTube clip from back then and then a game tonight with your local college basketball assistant. Ask him to point out the myriad defensive covers, the options offensively, the hedging and the thinking and the intelligence behind the play on both ends.
I understand that you don't like or even relate to the players like you used to. That's fine. Your father did the same thing. We all will. The dribble-dribble-dribble mentality of AAU ball enervates me as well. But just because you weren't introduced to these guys as collegians in their early 20s in April on CBS, it doesn't mean they aren't great. The league is bigger, better, faster, stronger and smarter. And the influx of improved scouting and international play has allowed for those 30 teams. And even on those weak links, there are players (not enough minutes for Tyrus Thomas(notes) or Omri Casspi(notes) or Derrick Favors(notes) or Troy Murphy(notes) or even Kevin Love until a month and a half ago) who still aren't getting the burn they need or deserve.
Angry aside, over. I promise.
James is just reeling. He's trying to justify something he still clearly feels guilty about -- leaving Cleveland to play with better teammates -- while being conflicted over something that was clearly (did you see the Heat take it to the Lakers the other day?) the right decision. The Decision was moronic, but in pure basketball terms? James made the right decision. We all would, in choosing sides on a team. We grab the best players and don't mix it up or demand that the best of the crew ball by himself because that's what Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant(notes) would have done. MJ and Kobe, mind you, spent a good chunk of their career on team buses or in parking lots complaining about their less-successful teammates, wishing for better ones.
So James comes out with nonsense like this. Yes, it would be sweet to see Kevin Love shore up Phoenix's rebounding or Devin Harris get to the line a few times for the Hawks. But it's also nice to watch Love pull in 20 and 15, on freakin' average, in Minnesota night after night. It's cool to see Harris and Avery Johnson work on getting it right, nearly anonymously in Newark.
As for not knowing what "contraction" meant? I don't doubt that he did. When you don't know what you're talking about, and when you talk a lot because you have a lot of strong (often conflicting) emotions coming out in a dozen different directions, this is what happens. And it's OK to feel a little bit in one direction, and a little bit towards the opposite direction in back-to-back breaths.
Chalk up another learning experience for the guy, I suppose, in a year that was, hopefully, full of them.