The First of Messidor of LeBron James

Karl Marx once said when summarizing the coup of 1852 in France, which saw the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte crown himself emperor of the Second French Empire “History repeats … first as tragedy, then as farce.” This is applicable to LeBron James recent two stops and the instability he’s brought to each stop after seemingly coming to an understanding this be a multi-year project, in a few months we come to learn he had no such patience.

The reality is there no quick fix for the fledgling Lakers. You cannot trade half the roster for Anthony Davis, not only is it bad optics, the various assets the Lakers were reportedly willing to part with weren’t enticing to New Orleans who’d rather wait and see if Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics is on the block for their disgruntled star.

What we saw prior to the All-Star break was a power play from LeBron’s agent Rich Paul to essentially run the league. In this era of more power to the players, there are obvious limits to their abilities. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis can demand for a trade whenever they please. However, they cannot pick where they are to play unless they are free agents.

The numerous mouthpieces the Lakers have in the media beyond the friendly confines of their cable company worked tirelessly to paint L.A as loyal, forward-thinkers. In reality, this is the organization that panicked at 12:01 A.M July 1 and gift wrapped $136,000,000 to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov because general manager Mitch Kupchak did not know the NBA is run  mostly by conniving thieves who laugh at the NBA’s toothless tampering laws.

In reality, the Lakers are the same organization that sided with journeyman and now free agent Nick Young when then-rookie D’Angelo Russell videotaped the then-Laker having an affair. Normal teams don’t throw their rookie under the bus for Nick Fucking Young.

People will tell you the Lakers have changed since then. That the new regime of Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss is a much better work environment. In reality, the safe money is on Luke Walton being scapegoated for not meeting the ridiculous expectations L.A had for themselves coming into the season.

So why did LeBron willingly sign long term with this clown show? Just like when he returned to Cleveland the move made sense financially and presented more opportunities for LeBron to collect the necessary capital to one day buy a basketball team when he’s ready to hang it up.

LeBron James is a Laker solely to make movies, go to parties and get richer. And God bless him for it.

GTB: Worst Free Agent Signings

This is admittedly a difficult column to write. Teams are hamstrung by their erratic spending in the summers of 2015 and 2016, working with very little cap space this summer so the overpays are a little less egregious than in the past. Where the comical bad contracts were large sums of cash thrown to below-league average players in 2016; 2018 is defined by poor fits for the player and our team, and a lack of clarity as to why they were signed.

Players still on the market like Marcus Smart and Clint Capela are engaged in an extremely awkward standoff between their respective teams, as their market has dried up considerably since July 1 leaving them with little leverage at the negotiating table. We’ll see how the market fairs for them, but this column is about those who’ve already signed since free agency began.

Let’s start off light: the Phoenix Suns, small-forward Trevor Ariza, one-year $15,000,000, and is set to be the highest paid player on the team for the 2018/19 season.

Love the contract. Love the player. Absolutely hate the team. Ariza is one of the few forwards that can conceivably guard Kevin Durant – and did so adequately in the famous West-Finals duel. It hurts the Houston Rockets to lose him and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Teams that could’ve used Ariza’s assistance more than the lowly Suns: Indiana, Golden State, Utah, Milwaukee… Since the Suns already have veteran forward Jared Dudley and 3-and-D prospect Josh Jackson, who’s shown flashes of a dynamic offensive game his rookie year, I just don’t see why (or where) Ariza fits on this Suns team. Unless the Suns can gain some value for Ariza on the trade market, I don’t see this as anything but a loss for Phoenix.

Doug McDermott, Indiana, three-years, $22,000,000; average salary $7,333,333

Oh, this is real bad. For one, who are the Pacers bidding against for McDermott? A fairly underwhelming offensive threat who’s primarily skills don’t fit what Nate McMillan has in mind for his team. I guess since LeBron is gone, the only other team that imposes a serious threat at the small-forward spot is Boston so the east teams can getaway with playing someone like McDermott for large stretches. But Indiana needed creators and athleticism, bypassing Shabazz Napier (still not signed) and sacrificing cap space that could’ve been used for Orlando Magic 24-year-old power forward/center Aaron Gordon.

The Pacers are a lot closer to the Raptors, Sixers tier than many expect. Them willingly bowing out on Smart and re-signing backup shooting guard Glenn Robinson (now of the Pistons) makes little sense to me. The only actual point guard on the roster is Darren Collison, Oladipo cannot play the role of floor general for long stretches.

To add to this, the Pacers recently signed New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn, a underachieving stretch big who’s primary motivation is to just score when given the ball. Seeing as the Pacers are better off playing Domantas Sabonis at center, O’Quinn only muddies the waters as he’s incapable of guarding power forwards and can play only one position like Sabonis.

I don’t see the fit and think the Pacers have squandered an opportunity to take full advantage of a LeBron-less conference.

Aron Baynes, Boston, two-years, $10,646,880; cap breakdown: first-year: $5,193,600, second-year: $5,543,280

Let me be clear: I love Aron Baynes. Arguably the best acquisition of Danny Ainge’s last summer whirlwind of remolding the team we have now. His defending of Sixers superstar Joel Embiid shifted the tides of the series, in which the Celtics were heavy underdogs. Re-signing Baynes was an absolute must for Ainge. But the stipulations aren’t ideal for a Boston team that lacks proper salary filler if they want to be active in trade talks.

In addition to a no-trade clause, Baynes was given a player-option for 2019/20 season. Okay. Why? I understand the Celtics are currently locked in an unsettling, murky dispute with Marcus Smart and can not afford to add Baynes to the mix given their lack of depth at center, but who else was going to offer a traditional, defensive-minded center more than one-year; Clint Capela is still on the market for Christs’ sake.

Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee, three-years, $21,000,000; average salary: $7,000,000

Quite possibly, the most jarring signing, Ilyasova enjoyed some success in his brief stint in Philadelphia. His zenith was the Miami series, shooting 51.1%, averaging nine-shot attempts in the five-game series. The subsequent nadir was the Boston series, his shooting percentage fell to 33.3%.

Not that much of a defender, Ilyasova can’t provide much for Milwaukee on other end. It’s perplexing they prioritized signing a 31-year-old power forward over their own prospect Jabari Parker.

Since the Bucks recently signed Brook Lopez, this negates the Ilyasova contract even more. Lopez is a better floor spacer and scoring option. The two acquisitions basically finish Milwaukee’s off-season, they hope to be a cap space team next summer – though re-signing Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe will put a damper on that.

The Los Angeles Lakers:
JaVale McGee: 1-year, $2,393,887
Lance Stephenson: 1-year, $4,500,000
Rajon Rondo: 1-year, $9,000,000
Kentavious Cardwell-Pope: 1-year, $12,000,000
Total money spent: $27,893,887

In the two days since signing LeBron the Lakers spent nearly $28 million on players that likely wouldn’t be signed today if L.A didn’t. KCP is basically a good faith deal, his representation having strong connections to Lebron.

The saving grace here is the Lakers only willfully shot themselves in the foot for this season, the cap space will likely roll over to next summer where they’ll hope to be in on Klay Thompson or even Kevin Durant – unless Kawhi Leonard is traded to Los Angeles before the season starts.

This team lacks any real spacing, I mean for Gods sake, rookie Moe Wagner will probably be starting center by December because the shooting is nonexistent. Even if Brandon Ingram takes the leap, it’ll only moderately help. LeBron is set for the most difficult season of his career, a good chance we’ll see a drop in points per game and then mistake it for his decline.

Bottom line: I see a mass exodus of these clowns come January. The Lakers will miss the playoffs if otherwise.

Dan Gilbert Is Low Hanging Fruit

June 30th, 11:55 free agency officially began with the signing of Doug McDermott to the Pacers. Of course that’s not why we had Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania notifications on every one of their tweets. The big fishes this summer are Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and of course, LeBron James. PG surprised many by being the first domino to fall and rebuking Los Angeles to stay in the small-market of Oklahoma City. As the Spurs and Lakers continue their epic standoff regarding trading Leonard, Bron did not want to wait any longer. At 8:08 P.M the Eastern Conference got just a little more pathetic, it’s best player leaving the conference for the west – more specifically, the Lakers.

Of course, we have to play the blame game. We look in the direction of owner Dan Gilbert – deservingly so. But it’s far too easy and somewhat lacking proper context. It’s no secret Gilbert ousted general manager David Griffin in the middle of an off-season where Paul George could have been had. A deal was in place which would deliver PG to Cleveland without having to part ways with star point guard Kyrie Irving. Except Cavaliers management couldn’t get a commitment from LeBron beyond the 2017-18 season. From that point on we should have known he was just running out the clock.

Gilbert gave up control to LeBron since he returned to Cleveland in 2014 – as he should have. A player like James deserves this kind of control over a franchise. And Gilbert paid his bills, signing Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and J.R Smith to outrageously oversized contracts to appease James. When the last asset of any value left in the cabinet is a middle of the lottery first-round pick I honestly cannot blame Gilbert for not wanting to part ways with a prospect like Collin Sexton for one-year of DeAndre Jordan, who wouldn’t have helped at all against the Warriors in the finals.

We can criticize Gilbert for all the idiotic ways he’s screwed his team up beyond just these last four-seasons. But we can’t pin the Kyrie Irving debacle on him. The Cavaliers should still be a contender for the playoffs with both Irving and Love in uniform – instead of 500/1 odds to win the title according to Westgate.

Gilbert is a petty, cold businessman. LeBron is in the middle of becoming a business. The bottom line always was top-priority to Gilbert. In February he made everyone with floor seats sign a three-year extension.

Gilbert got his team back and made a pretty penny in the time he briefly gave it up, and when LeBron was costing Gilbert money there wasn’t any reason to pretend everything was hunky-dory. A split between these two corporations was always imminent. Let’s hope Gilbert can restrain himself from his keyboard this time.

It Shouldn’t Have Ended That Way

The 2010 NBA Finals loss to the selfish Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers was the first ever heartbreak I experienced as a sports fan. I didn’t become integrated into the New England Patriots until 2011 – Just in time for the equally dreadful Super Bowl XLVI defeat. I HATED the Patriots before 2011. But I was always a Celtics fan. A young, pessimistic me didn’t take a seat on my cozy living room chair to watch, what I didn’t know then was the swan song for the era of Lakers dominance.

Ask anyone heading into the finals, even Bostonians would tell you the 2010 matchup meant so much more to Bryant than to the Celtics. In someways the loss in 2010 was a precursor to the Patriots loss to the Eagles in the 2018 Super Bowl. We entered the final dance calm and collected, “if we win: great! If we don’t, eh. Always next year,” little did we know there wasn’t to be a next year. It’s been nearly a decade since the Celtics made it to the final round. After 2008, the Lakers returned to being the Celtics bitch like in the days of Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. The best high-volume shooter the game’s ever seen bulldozed his way to a redemption championship the next year, then repeated himself the season after. At age 33, and with LeBron James looming in the shadows, in hindsight we were stupid for not seeing this as Kobe’s last dance, as well.

The old man Celtics that punched their way back to the finals, through an eastern conference that wasn’t deluded as it was two-years ago. The Miami Heat was the first casualty. Dwyane Wade was still in his prime, one year removed from averaging 30.2 points in the 2008-09 season off of 49.6% shooting. The Celtics took care of them in five. LeBron’s Cleveland squad was next. Many pegged the Cavaliers to stroll through the C’s en route to the much anticipated rematch of the east-finals a year ago against Orlando. After three games things were going as planned, Cavs lead Boston 2-1 and just took Game 3 at the Garden 95-124. Then something snapped in a bad way for LeBron; he shot just 34% in the final three-games as the Cavs dropped all of them, Brian Windhorst alluded to the organization is worried the pills Bron took to deal with his elbow pain was giving him depression. Things got messed up real fast is what I was saying. The improbable run bulldozed through the Magic Kingdom. Pierce shot 51.2%, averaged 24.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in possibly the best series of his career. Suddenly, the Celtics were back when nobody thought this unlikeable bunch of overpaid, aging, slow guys had a snow balls chance in Hell.

It wasn’t just “The Truth,” The 2010 playoffs birthed us “National TV Rondo.” The typical spunky little brother on the 2008 squad grew into arguably the best player on the AARP Celtics, getting the best of LeBron in a playoff series when things looked bleak during the semi-finals.

The decline of Garnett after his knee injury before the 2009 playoffs ended the hopes of repeating as champions. Garnett just wasn’t the same athlete after February of ‘09. The best player on the championship team fell to the third spot behind Pierce and Rondo. His offensive game dwindled, legs lacking the  bounce that nearly won him the MVP despite being in his early-30s.

The alternate outcomes that could have lead to Banner 18 basically go like this:

1. Ray Allen Doesn’t Croak in Game Three:
Yes. Perhaps the second greatest jump shooting guard of all-time, fresh off an 11 of 20 outing, including a record breaking 8 three-pointers, Ray-Ray followed that all-time virtuoso performance with the greatest dud of his storied career. 0-of-13. Zero shots made. In the crucial Game 4 Boston lost by just seven-points. The Celtics went on to win the next two to take a 3-2 lead, before, of course losing the final two games in Los Angeles.

Say, instead of the pendulum swinging all the way to the other side for Ray-Ray, he duplicates his outing from Game 2 making shot after shot. Alternate Reality Ray Allen shoots six-of-13, 3-of-8 from three and two free throws culminate to 27 points as the Celtics defeat Los Angeles 107-91. The Celtics go on to close the series in five-games.

2. Kendrick Perkins Doesn’t Get Hurt:
Okay. This is pretty played out, so lemme just set up the scenario. Celtics walk into the Staples Center, needing just one victory to sow this bad boy up. Things start off fine enough, then our lone reliable rebounder tears his ACL in the opening quarter then the game goes into the shitter REAL fast.

In the first six-games L.A snagged 244 rebounds to Boston’s 225; Perkins ranked first in the series (excluding Game 7) in the finals in TRB% at 15.7. In the ensuing decisive Game 7 L.A out-rebounded Boston 53-40. 8 Celtics offensive rebounds to Los Angeles’ 23.

Safe to assume the Celtics squeak out a victory, an extra title and save me a lot of misery if Perk is 100%.

3. Doc Rivers Manages His Rotations Better

Ah. This is truly the unsung reason for the Celtics crushing defeat: as the old Celtics legs waned as the game became a rock fight, the importance of young legs should have been prioritized. Glen Davis started off hot in the first quarter, knocking in six-points in the opening period. Doc went away from Davis in favor of the veteran Rasheed Wallace, who caused an awful lot of distress that season even though it didn’t look like that given his personable nature. Wallace turned back the clock slightly, finishing 5-of-11, 11 points and 8 rebounds, but fouled out with 25.7 seconds left  intentionally sending Bryant to the line.

The minutes tally went like this:
Rasheed Wallace: 35:36
Glen Davis: 20:50

If the workload was split up more evenly:
Wallace: 30:30
Davis: 25:56

An extra Davis basket changes the game dramatically. Sheed doesn’t need to internally foul Bryant if the Celtics lead L.A 79-80, as opposed to down 78-76. Davis finished the series with the best rebounding rate on the Celtics. The inability for Doc to see that playing Wallace 35-minutes wasn’t going to cut it against the younger Gasol will always perplex me. Big Baby Davis’ frame and patented strong finishes at the basket would have made the likes of Andrew Bynum pay in the post.

Now, let’s have some fun with a bonus rotational decision that surely would have won the game for Boston: Nate Robinson. Yes. Little Nate Robinson. He’s like a very poor man’s Isaiah Thomas. Robinson acted as a spark plug off the bench, doing so in Game 6 of the Orlando series and Game 4 of the Lakers series. Doc gave the three-time Slam Dunk champion just three-in-a-half minutes of Game 7, taking just 1 shots, missing it.

Robinson put up 12 solid points in Game 4, then followed that up with 4 assists off the bench in Game 5. There was something to be unlocked within the tiny leaping point guard. A jolt of life to a dying light begging to shine just once more.

Say, if Robinson takes five of Ray Allen’s 45 minutes and knocks in a couple jump shots in the third quarter (Hell, just one would have done the trick) and the Celtics win Game 7 by the score of 85-83. Is that feasible? I don’t see why not, and you better not try to convince me otherwise.

In the end: the Celtics lost out on a chance to cement themselves as the dominate team of the era. After the ‘04 Pistons crashed and won the finals, a new era of rough and tumble ball seeped all the way to the 2010s before being chased away by pace and space basketball. Throughout those six-seasons following the last Kobe/Shaq season there have been only one team to have won more than one title in that span: the San Antonio Spurs, and that’s it.

The Lakers added to themselves to that list, even with Kobe’s 6-of-24 shooting night that would have ruined his legacy if Gasol didn’t save his ass.

An extra title for the Pierce/K.G Celtics means Garnett probably has enough juice to pass Karl Malone on the list of greatest power forwards ever, behind only Duncan and McHale. Perhaps he’d be the series MVP, despite his age he was still able to garner 4 blocks in Game 7 and be the Celtics best option on offense finishing 8-of-13 for 17 points.

If Pierce bagged the extra chip it’s likely in Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball makes an argument for him being the best player from the 1998 draft, not Dirk Nowitzki. Let’s see the argument:

Dirk versus Pierce, up until 2010:
Dirk: 21,111 points, 10 All-NBA selections, 9 All-Star appearances, 1 MVP, 1-Finals Runner-up
Pierce: 19,899 points, 4 All-NBA selections, 8 All-Star appearances, 2 championships, 1 Finals MVP

Hmmm… the only way someone could make this argument is if they were unabashed homers.

In all seriousness, maybe Pierce soars above Drexler, Payton, Thurmond and Kidd to just outside of the top-40. The Artist Formally Known as Ron Artest ate Pierce’s lunch on defense the entire series. Pierce countered by locking Bryant up for the most part. However, Pierce let Meta World Peace fire off the three-pointer that ultimately served as the dagger.

If Rondo gets the Finals MVP it only further highlight his fall from grace. But he shot 45.4%, averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists, was the most consistent Celtic of the series. After the 2010 run the media would attach Rondo to the C’s Big 3 core, naming it “The Big Three… AND Rondo.” Maybe the shine of Rondo would consume even Paul Pierce and things would get toxic real fast. On the flip side, maybe the New Orleans Hornets are seduced by the mystic of Playoff Rondo and wish to trade Chris Paul for him.

Either way, we’ll never know. We didn’t know then, but that was the last time the Celtics  have appeared in the finals. Maybe 2018-19 will end the drought?