The Harden trade and my disappointment in the Thunder management

I know I should have written this earlier, but I just couldn't face it until I actually saw James Harden in a Rockets uniform. I didn't want it to be real, not just because one of my favorite teams had traded one of my favorite players, but because that one move broke my understanding of what Sam Presti was trying to build in Oklahoma City.

I woke up to an e-mail from my buddy Kid breaking the bad news to me, and over the past three days I've gone through the stages of grief. The first three stages went by pretty quickly. I didn't want to believe it, but a quick Google search assured me it was true. I tried to assign blame, and wavered slightly in that process before I read that James Harden was essentially blindsided by the news. He hadn't asked to be traded, he wanted to stay, but for some reason Sam Presti and the Thunder management thought that anything over $53 million for four years wasn't worth the possibility of winning multiple titles.

I even went through a short bargaining phase hoping that maybe someone wouldn't pass the physical and the whole trade would be called back. I tried to ignore the news, but I had to come to accept it: the Thunder don't care as much about winning as we were led to believe. I fell for the Thunder because Sam Presti was a graduate of the Spurs system, which shows that you don't need a big market to win, you just need the right combination of players and a rabid fan base. OKC had both, and then they traded their #3 guy, because they couldn't close a gap of $7 million dollars over four years. That's all it was.

Harden was going to get a max deal from someone, there was never a debate on that. So, he was asking OKC for four years and $60 million. They offered four years and $53 million. He said no, because OKC wouldn't include a trade kicker, which would spare him the stress of other players who have signed below market value, then used as trade bait later on. Harden assumed the negotiations would continue, but they didn't.

OKC has tried to claim that they couldn't afford to pay that much after signing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka to long-term deals, but that's doesn't seem to be true. The Thunder are in the middle of the pack as the 15th most valuable team in the NBA according to Forbes, but word has it that the team made as much as $35 million in profit last year, and that number is on the rise as the team gets more and more popular around the country. Especially with the Internet, teams don't need to have a big local market, they just need to have marketable stars.

So, the Thunder traded Harden because they didn't want to cut into their profits that much, not because they couldn't afford it. And that felt like a betrayal. It had always seemed like the Thunder understood the formula. You need the two superstars, the would-be superstar willing to take a lesser role, and the specialists. The Thunder had the superstars in Durant and Westbrook, Harden as the would-be, then Ibaka as the energy/blocker, Perk as the Dwight Howard insurance, Maynor as the 2nd team general, Thabo as the wing defensive specialist, and Collison as the glue guy.

That's the way it works. One superstar can get you to the playoffs, two gets can get you as far as the Finals, if you're lucky, but you need that would-be guy to be a true championship contender. Sometimes the would-be guy is a rotating position, but sometimes he's a part of the dynasty. The Celtics in the 60s had Sam Jones, the Celtics in the 80s had Dennis Johnson, the Lakers in the 80s had James Worthy, the 90s Bulls had Toni Kukoc, the Spurs have Manu Ginobli, the Heat have Chris Bosh, and the Thunder had James Harden.

The would-be guy can be The Man on a team, but often, he just isn't wired in a way where that is the best option, as we saw with Chris Bosh in Toronto. Just because you have the talent doesn't mean you want the responsibility. Or, in Harden's case, it could also be that you understand the best way to be successful may be to be that #3 guy. That's why Harden famously wrote an e-mail to Sam Presti before his draft explaining that he wanted to be that guy on the Thunder. That's why I really connected with The Beard - he knew the best place for him, and he made it happen. Harden was the impetus for my very first NBA t-shirt purchase.

That's why I thought that the Thunder understood how it all worked, and would be challenging for championships in the years to come. It may have cost more with the new CBA rules, but the Thunder were looking at a very good chance at another Finals appearance this year, and we were looking at a potential Heat/Thunder rivalry blooming like the Celtics/Lakers.

Here's a thought: How much in revenue are the Thunder giving up with this trade, with the loss in ticket sales, concessions, merch, etc. from a run to the Finals each of the next four years? Sure, it's not a guarantee, but the other Western conference contenders weren't set up nearly as well. Kobe can't last forever, and neither can Steve Nash for the Lakers. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli are also on their ways out for the Spurs. The Nuggets don't have the superstar necessary for a real title run. The Clippers still haven't locked up Chris Paul, Vinny Del Negro is a bad coach, and Donald Sterling can never be trusted. Barring a major move, the Thunder looked to have a good path to the Finals.

Admittedly, the Thunder still have that path deep into the playoffs, but neither Kevin Martin nor Jeremy Lamb is going to be the leader of the 2nd team, and the guy to fill the holes when Durant and Westbrook need help. The team will still be very good, but they traded away the potential for greatness. And, it certainly doesn't help to see James Harden start his Rockets career with 37 points, 12 assists, 6 boards, and 4 steals (sure, it was against the Pistons, but still very impressive.)

I knew this was a possibility, but I never really expected it to happen, and now I have to re-calibrate how I think about the Thunder franchise.

David Stern: the best, or really lucky?

The news that David Stern is planning to step down as commissioner of the NBA came out yesterday, but was really no surprise to even casual NBA fans. And, also not surprising, the time since his announcement has been spent with the the usual myth-building that comes when a powerful figure is about to step out of the spotlight. The general consensus about Stern is that he was an amazing commissioner (for at least half of his tenure), and a good commissioner (for the other half), and possibly even the best sports commissioner of all time.

It's that last part that I have a bit of trouble accepting, or at least I have trouble accepting it without question. I can certainly get behind the idea that Stern was a great commissioner, but he was also extraordinarily lucky. Remember, he took over as commissioner mid-season in 84, which was the first year of the Bird/Magic rivalry. That Finals started the NBA ascent, and it's hard to give Stern credit for that.

As Bird and Magic were on the way out, guess who showed up: Michael Jordan. And, guess what came along with Michael Jordan? The explosion of highlight reels, ESPN, and SportsCenter. ESPN had been around in the 80s, but it really made the move into the mainstream with the rise of cable TV in the 90s.

The NBA itself had something of a lull after Jordan, because the league was burdened with a superstar that wasn't outgoing (Tim Duncan), one that wasn't likable (Kobe), and one that was likable, but had spotty work ethic and a terrible entertainment manager (Shaq). But, there was a boom in international basketball players, mostly due to the global effect of the Dream Team. That is something that Stern should definitely get credit for.

Now, we're at the end of Stern's career, and the NBA is in another boom, with highly marketable stars. Stern gets credit for pushing the digital distribution, and embracing mobile and the web, but as always, he can't really take credit for the level of players or play in the league. Granted, no commissioner can take credit for that, but it feels like the nature of basketball takes its success out of the commissioner's hands more than other sports.

Basketball is a sport where you can see the athletes completely (and sometimes a bit too much with those old short-shorts), and these guys are huge. It's hard for fans to forget that the smallest guy on the court is often as tall as one of the tallest guys that you know personally. Basketball is also a sport that lends itself far better to highlight reels than most, because the feats of athleticism are far more apparent. So, the fact that the NBA saw a boom that started with the rise of cable TV isn't at all surprising.

You can see the athletes in baseball easily, but the athleticism isn't as apparent, because it's such a slow game. One or two diving catches over 4 hours can't compare to flying dunks, and 7 foot tall behemoths pushing each other around.

Hockey is impressive, but it's hard for fans to understand how impressive it is unless they have attempted ice skating before. Additionally, hockey was very difficult to follow before HDTV because of the speed, and the size of the puck.

The athleticism is very apparent in football, but the players are completely covered, so you don't have as much of a visual connection to the players, because of the helmets and pads. You get the behemoths crunching, but when they are covered in a layer of fat, it gives a different tone from someone like Dwight Howard.

Soccer has readily apparent athleticism, easily seen players, and a wonderful transition to highlight reels. And, soccer is also one of the few sports that is more popular globally than basketball. The nature of the sport can't be discounted from the equation. It's almost hard to imagine basketball not becoming as popular as it has. David Stern has certainly done a great job of steering the ship, but I can't help thinking that he had an amazing head-wind pushing him along.

Of course, it's hard to talk about the NBA without mentioning the race issue. Stern always gets a good amount of praise for successfully marketing a mostly black league to a predominantly white audience. This is mainly an American issue, but certainly not a small issue. Combine that with the drug problems, and too much money too fast problems of the NBA when Stern took over, and I am certainly willing to cede that Stern was a great commissioner, and no doubt the best NBA commissioner ever. I'm just not sure I can go whole hog and give him the nod as the best sports commissioner ever.

The Eternal Disconnect Between Fans and Athletes

Being a fan is a tough thing. You give a lot of yourself to a team, and to the players that happen to wear that jersey, and you hope it's a two way street. But, more often than not, it isn't. Loyalty among athletes isn't exactly a myth, but it is certainly a rarity. And, that's the hardest truth to accept as a fan.

My sports history

I've had a somewhat atypical path to becoming an NBA fan, so I've been able to avoid the loyalty argument, simply because my own loyalty has been so tenuous. I'm not the Sports Guy who grew up in a hub of great sports. The only sports affiliation that I inherited was my love of the New York Mets, because my uncle and grandfather were fans, and my dad simply hated the Yankees (he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan). In hockey, I'm a Montreal Canadiens fan, because I grew up 2 hours from Montreal. In football, I started as a Giants fan, because I was born in NYC, but eventually became a Packers fan because we moved out of the city when I was young, and I loved Brett Favre. My NBA affiliations have followed a similar trend.

I came to the game late, and didn't really begin watching the NBA until late in high school. At the time, I was living in a small town in northern New York, which meant that I was 6 hours from NYC and the Knicks, 5 hours from the Celtics, and 8 hours from Toronto. I had no easy access to a professional team, my dad was more likely to follow St. John's than any NBA team. I hadn't lived in NYC long enough to be drawn to the Knicks, and my number one basketball friend growing up was something of an NBA agnostic as well.

I began watching the NBA when I became friends with my buddy Kid. He grew up in that small town, and had been an NBA lifer. He had a small connection to the Knicks simply because we were in the same state, but he had a Bird jersey on his wall right next to a Magic jersey. He just loved the game, and it was infectious. When we started hanging out, he was a huge KG fan, meaning he had to try to follow the T'Wolves while living in rural New York, when the Internet was just becoming more widespread. Not an easy task.

I decided that I would be a Tim Duncan fan. It was that simple. I just decided with almost no prior knowledge other than that Timmy was ambidextrous. It was pure luck that Tim became the annual roadblock to KG's success, setting up the easy rivalry between Kid and I, and even more lucky that Tim became the stoic leader-by-example that I love, and identified with. And, I was given an in-road to the great NBA past by following David Robinson. As the Spurs era nears its close, I've found myself following another somewhat stoic leader-by-example, Kevin Durant, and another team that's run very well (in the model of the Spurs), the OKC Thunder.


It also allowed me to see both sides of the loyalty debate. On one hand, there was Tim Duncan and David Robinson, Spurs lifers and total team players. On the other side, there was KG in a bad situation, and me. KG was stuck in Minnesota with a bad front office, and his only real chance lay in the mercurial hands of Stephon Marbury. Tim Duncan was in a great place with arguably the best front office in all of sports, and a path to title contention every year. Eventually, KG wanted out, and got a trade to the Celtics where he suddenly had a quality team, and a top-notch front office around him.

At the end of the day, it's a matter of differing levels of myopia. At best, athletes are in it to win championships, and at worst, they're in it for the paycheck, but either way the focus is most often on themselves and their families. But fans are only in it for the wins, and the focus is always on their team. As fans know, not all sports teams are run well (which is a big reason I've given up on baseball, being a Mets fan is too masochistic), but fans somehow expect that players should just gut it out regardless.

But, from a player's perspective, it's just a job. If a normal person hates their job or hates their boss, and they have the option to transfer to somewhere better, most everyone will take that opportunity. If you're an athlete in a bad situation, and have an option to leave, it doesn't matter. You have to live with it (from a fan's perspective) because the fans have to live with it.


The real trouble isn't with loyalty or even perspective. The real trouble is that fans don't seem to realize that there is always the option to not support a team that's badly run. I mean, it is simple torture to be a New York Mets fan, so you know what I did? I stopped supporting the team. If the front office gets the boot, and the Mets have a legitimate chance, maybe they can woo me back. So, why on Earth would anyone willingly put themselves through the torture of being a Knicks fan during the James Dolan era, especially when the Dolan era combined with the Isaiah Thomas era? Why would anyone want to be a Warriors fan in the Chris Cohan era? How about the Wizards under Ted Leonsis, or the Mavericks before Mark Cuban showed up?

Some may call it being a "fair weather fan" or a "bandwagon fan", but really it's just common sense. The Knicks are highly unlikely to ever win a title with James Dolan in charge. The Clippers may be looking good recently, but even with a bit of sparkle to the team, it's hard to imagine that team going all the way with  Donald Sterling hanging around. Bad ownership begets bad GMs which in turn leads to bad teams. And, the only way to oust bad ownership is to stop supporting the team.

This isn't always as easy as just tuning out, because you could always end up with an owner that would rather move the team than give up control, but fans need to start placing blame where it needs to be. LeBron didn't screw over the Cavs. He was with a bad owner and a bad GM who surrounded him with bad players.  Kyrie Irving is looking like he'll be one of the top 20 players in the league at the end of this year, but will he really want to stay in Cleveland if the best veteran savvy the team can muster is Luke Walton and Anderson Varajao (who may not be on the team that much longer)?

Players have every right to escape bad situations, and fans do too, although you'll never get a fan to admit that.

Dwight's first night as a Laker, and Kobe's continued love of the ball

It may only be the preseason, but nothing this early in the season could be as important as how Dwight Howard looks in his first game. This is not just Howard's first game as a Los Angeles Laker, and the first time we're seeing the full Laker lineup in action. This is the first time we get to evaluate just what kind of progress Dwight Howard has made since having back surgery.

Keep that in mind. Howard may be one of the transcendent athletes of this generation, but he doesn't have super-healing powers (as far as we know). He had surgery on his back less than 5 months ago, and was using a walker in the early stages of rehab. If anything throws up a red flag, it's back injuries. You never want to see someone rush back from major surgery, because the risk of the injury recurring goes up, and repeated back injuries is an easy way to shorten your career.

At the time the surgery was announced, Howard said that he would be able to "start rehab right away and be back to full contact in four months". Amazingly, he hit that schedule, and made his debut for the Lakers tonight in a preseason game against the Sacramento Kings.There will no doubt be clips that start making the rounds to claim that Howard isn't the same player (like when Thomas Robinson soared over Howard for the put-back dunk,) but overall Howard looked good. (I'm still a bit confused as to how Howard's complaining on every no-call and mugging for the refs doesn't either fall under the "Respect the Game" rules, or the new flopping rules, respectively.)

He was noticeably smaller without the insane shoulders that we've come to know, and it was obvious that his strength is certainly not 100%. But, Howard knows how to play, and his IQ helped get him through. In 33 minutes, Howard had 4 blocks, 12 rebounds, and 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Hard to argue with that kind of line. He was quick, and his instincts and positioning carried his defense. It wasn't the most overpowering display by Howard, but he didn't really need to be, as he often found himself looking at an open dunk. And, he certainly proved that there is a big difference between being a transcendent athlete, and being a great basketball player.

The one bad mark on Howard's opening night was that he was somewhat sloppy with the ball. He fumbled the ball a number of times, and looked more uncomfortable than usual putting the ball on the floor. Of course, Howard's troubles, which led to 5 turnovers, was really just a team-wide issue, and one that led the Lakers to a loss tonight.

It's hard to put too much on a preseason loss, even if it does bring the Lakers to 0-6, but the sloppiness with the ball was the big problem for the Lakers. They shot better than the Kings, took almost twice as many free throws, and out rebounded the Kings. The big difference was that the Kings took 18 more shots from the field, which was a direct result of the Lakers' 22 turnovers, and led to 24 points off of turnovers for the Kings.

There was some great passing and ball movement from the Lakers... until either Kobe or Metta World Peace caught the ball. Each did their very best to be ball-stoppers, but at least Kobe made good use of his time with the ball notching 21 points on 6 of 12 shooting. That sounds good on the surface, until you consider that Kobe missed his last 3 shots which all came in the last 1:00 of the game. Good basketball once again transitioned into hero ball for Kobe, and the Lakers went 0-4 in that last minute (Nash was the only other Laker to attempt a shot).

Throughout the game, the Lakers may have been going out of their way to prove that they all get along, but the Lakers still didn't quite have chemistry together. That shouldn't really be surprising, given that this is just the 5th game for Steve Nash, and obviously the first for Dwight Howard.  Of course, team chemistry doesn't mean much if the hero ball continues from Kobe. Still, every Laker seemed locked in, and that is a prerequisite to building team chemistry. This could be a very scary team come playoff time. I'll be watching, that's for sure.

NBA Legends: Shut the Hell Up!

I had planned to write a column about "The Decision" and the surrounding media fiasco, but basically the media beat me down so much with LeBron coverage that I had to bury myself in a cave and avoid all NBA news for a while. I surfaced a couple days ago, and the first thing I came across were stories of NBA legends commenting on the new Miami Heat supergroup, which as far as I can tell includes: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Pete Best. 

If you haven't been paying attention, first Michael Jordan came out and said, "There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team... In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."

Then Magic Johnson basically echoed MJ's statement yesterday.

Here's what I need to say to Magic and MJ: "SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

No, MJ you never would have called up anyone to come help you, because you DIDN'T NEED the help! You had Pippen, Rodman, Kukoc, Kerr, and a slew of other top notch players and role players around you. You had Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time! 

And Magic? You had Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, Bob McAdoo, A.C. Green, and Pat "A Pimp Named Slickback" Riley! 

Neither of you needed anything else. You were given the tools to build dynasties. Of course you didn't need to call up other superstars. 

I am no LeBron fan, but what has he had? A broken down Shaq, no legitimate All-Stars and Mike Brown. What did Bosh have? Toronto. And Wade? Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley. These guys were working with nothing, and they were handed the opportunity to come together to build a dynasty. 

I mean be honest MJ, if Pippen and Phil hadn't come along, would you really have stayed in Chicago? And Magic, if you hadn't been gift-wrapped to the Lakers, really, what would you have done? Because there is a world of difference between landing in Chicago or LA, and landing in Cleveland or Toronto. 

I won't defend LeBron's method's during this mess, but no one, not even the NBA legends, can fault him for taking the opportunity to be in a better situation. 

Cut the Shit, LeBron. You're Just an Asshole.

The latest in a series of missteps by LeBron James has him now claiming that race played a part in the huge backlash against him. My opinion: Cut the shit, LeBron. You're just an asshole.

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This of course is not the first time race has been introduced into this debacle, because Jesse Jackson famously claimed that Dan Gilbert was treating LeBron like a "runaway slave". In my opinion, Gilbert showed no such racism in his open letter. He was simply giving voice to the millions of Cleveland fans who were hurt that LeBron had left and angry because of the way he chose to do it. Jackson completely misread that situation and tried to steal some spotlight for himself as he often does. LeBron is trying to stay in the spotlight, but using the race card just furthers his continual lack of awareness of the situation. 

To be clear, I'm sure that there was some racist sentiment mixed into the backlash, because unfortunately there are still plenty of racists in America. But, overwhelmingly the backlash was because LeBron has and continues to act like a thoughtless, egotistical asshole. Before his "Decision" everyone loved him, where were the racists then?

The vast majority of the backlash is because of the way LeBron chose to break the news. He was callous to the fans who had supported him for 7 years. He ignored the teammates who played with him in that time. He left the team in the lurch by not telling them he was leaving, meaning they had no opportunity to pursue anyone else. Then, to top it all off, he went on national TV to do all of that. 

So, I'll say it again, race may have been an issue to some, but for the vast majority, the problem was and continues to be that LeBron is a selfish, thoughtless, egotistical asshole. 

Brandon Jennings and the Rookie of the Year

The NBA season is over and of course talk has ramped up about the seasonal awards. Let's start with a quick recap of the awards, and my predictions:

MVP - Of course, there's no real debate about this award - LeBron wins, though I'd put Durant as number 2.

Sixth man - Jamal Crawford. He shouldn't even be eligible because the Hawks should have shot Mike Bibby months ago, but here we are.

Defensive player - Dwight Howard. No one dominates the defensive end like him.

Most improved player is ambiguous at best. Should it be unexpected improvement (Marc Gasol) or does Kevin Durant still qualify? In the end, I don't even care enough to make a pick.

Coach of the Year - In my opinion, it should be between Nate McMillan and Scott Brooks. One overcame tons of injuries, and one got a young team to commit on defense and surprise everyone. I'd go with Nate, because he's had a tougher road. The Thunder had the talent to be this good all along.

That brings us to the award I really wanted to talk about - Rookie of the Year. The race is both not as close as it should be (Evans vs Curry) and closer than it should be (Brandon Jennings.)

Starting with Brandon Jennings, I don't think he should even be in the discussion. All the arguments for Jennings boils down to one flawed point: he's "leading" a team that won 46 games and made the playoffs, whereas Evans and Curry are on teams that only won 51 games combined. Here's the biggest issue with that argument: top rated rookies go to shitty teams, that's how the NBA draft works. You cannot take a team's overall success into consideration in the RoY award because of that. It's not Jennings' doing that he landed on a better team in an easier conference any more than it's Evans or Curry's fault that they ended up on crappy teams in a really tough conference. If you had put either Curry or Evans on the Bucks, they'd still be in the playoffs, and if you put Jennings on the Kings or Warriors, they'd still suck. So, taking that out of the equation, let's look at Jennings' pros and cons:

Pros - 55 point game, good free throw shooting (82%),

Cons - Terrible shooting that continuously got worse throughout the year (43%FG 50%3P in Sept/Oct, 38%FG 32%3P in Nov, 32%FG 35%3P in Dec, 31%FG 31%3P in Jan, 37.5%FG 36%3P in Feb/March),

Not so good assist to turnover ratio (2.35),

Second worst Adjusted FG% for all rookies (43%).

Jennings shot the Bucks to more losses than wins. He shot terribly, and still ended up taking more shots than any other rookie, while playing fewer minutes than Evans or Curry. I don't care how well the Bucks were as a team, Jennings doesn't deserve any votes for rookie of the year.

So, the decision comes down to Evans vs Curry. Evans was successful from day 1, while Curry came on stronger as the season went on. Their overall stats are very similar:

Evans - 20PPG, 5.8APG, 5.3RPG, 1.5SPG, 3TO, 46%FG

Curry - 17.5PPG, 5.9APG, 4.5RPG, 1.9SPG, 3TO, 46%FG

Drill down a bit and things spread out a bit:

Evans - 25.5% 3P, 75%FT

Curry - 44% 3P, 88.5%FT

So, they had similar stats, but Curry was more efficient. And, more importantly, Evans had no help at all. He had the ball in his hands all the time, but somehow only ended up with 2.5 more PPG than Curry. On the other hand, Curry had notorious ball hog Monta Ellis (22 FGA per game) next to him. I'd say that makes Curry's year more impressive. Plus, as I mentioned at first, Curry got better throughout the year, Evans didn't. Shouldn't that come into play with a rookie? Yes, it's impressive when a rookie can come in and play at a high level from day one, but even if that's the case, shouldn't he still get better? Consistency is good, but I want to see growth potential in my rookies.

So, as you can guess, I'm going with Curry for RoY.

LeBron and the Cavs

It's the NBA season, so it's time for a return of the carefully reasoned rants!

most people don't share my dislike of LeBron and the Cavs, but here are my issues:

1) I hate the way LeBron plays. he is a freak athlete who is bigger, stronger, and faster than anyone else out there, so all he needs to do (and all he does) in big games is clear out his teammates and charge recklessly into the lane, because he will get the call. if everyone in the lane just jumped out of the way, LeBron would just run out of bounds because he's not in control enough to actually finish without trucking someone.

2) Mike Brown is a terrible coach, because he fosters and encourages this behavior by LeBron. they lost to the Magic, because the rest of the team can be shut down, and LeBron can't win by himself. The Celts reinforced that idea in game 1 this year, and the Raptors did the same in game 2.

it's the Wilt Chamberlain vs Bill Russell theory. Bill knew that if you let Wilt do what he wanted, but focused on stopping the rest of the team, then Wilt would lose. and what happened there? Bill won 11 rings, and Wilt won 2 (only 1 during the course of Russell's career).

which leads to:
3) the supporting cast in Cleveland is infinitely underwhelming, and easily beatable. without LeBron, that team struggles to make the playoffs in the EAST. strip away KG, and the Celts still make round 2 of the playoffs, take away Kobe, and i'm willing to bet the Lakers make round 2 as well. the Magic played without Jameer Nelson for a long stretch and still made the championship game.

the only real scoring threats outside LeBron are two extremely undersized guards in Delonte West and Mo Williams. Shaq and big Z are too old and slow. Anthony Parker is good, but shouldn't be more than an outside shot specialist. and Varejao is a streaky energy guy at best.

any of the elite level teams can shut down all of those threats when they need to, and no matter what LeBron puts on the board, it won't be enough.