LeBron James’ signing with Miami Heat has seemingly polarized the NBA Nation. Most hate everything about it, especially the way the whole thing went down. No need to provide another rundown of all the bad actors in this play. In the end, James was a “free agent,” which, as the name indicates, meant he earned the right to take his services wherever he desired.
The marriage between James and Dan Gilbert was dysfunctional and clearly beyond repair. Surely both sides could have handled everything better, but that didn’t happen. What happens next is anyone’s guess, although most people believe NBA rings are in the Heat’s future. What about the economic impact? Miami Heat troika of stars might be financial windfall that is felt beyond the Heat – and could positively impact the looming CBA negotiations.
Michael Jordan was a money-making machine – and he was universally revered. James was beloved as a Cleveland Cavalier. That changed July 8, 2010 at approximately 9:30pm, when James instantly became the NBA’s version of the Iron Shiek, a reviled WWE character. Miami fans will love him, especially if the Heat win NBA rings. But, to everyone else, the Heat is the new team everyone passionately loves to hate.
The closest parallel is politics. If your job is fundraising, you want a hotly contested race and you want wedge issues. Otherwise, no one really cares and it’s hard to get people to contribute money, let alone vote. Same thing applies in sports: You want the airwaves blowing up, people buying jerseys (even burning jerseys). You don’t want fans. You want fanatics.
We’re in the offseason and we can’t stop talking about James, the self-anointed king who still has to earn his first crown, which teams like the Magic, Celtics, Bulls, Thunder and certainly the Lakers won’t concede. Who knows who will win the 2011 NBA title? The only thing for certain is that more money will flow into NBA owners’ pocket books, which just might help break the labor impasse.
The NBA draft – and all entry drafts for that matter – is always an interesting study in hype, misdirection, science and pure luck. Players move up and down based on how they perform in the pre-draft process, which includes workouts, interviews, background checks and psychological and intelligence tests.
This year, the biggest draft enigma was Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins, whose reputation as a skilled big man often was tempered by his perceived attitude problem.
Teams select players based on “potential” – how they think a player’s abilities translate in the NBA. Obviously, the longer teams have to scout a particular player, the more accurate their evaluations are, at least in theory. In practice, however, until they play in the NBA, you never really know.
General managers and scouts are paid a lot of money to get these things right, but unless you have the good fortunate to select No. 1 or 2 in a year where there's a clear-cut pick, drafting players is always is always gamble.
Cousins’ behavior gave teams and draftniks reasons wonder whether his attitude might cause him problems in the NBA. He’s a raw talent, but will he one day implode and prove his doubters right? Cousins’ biggest knock was a few cheap shots he took at opponents, which became made-for-Youtube moments. Hey, Chris Paul did some questionable things on the court at Wake Forest, too.
Cousins has played well in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. My early analysis: He’s an extremely talented big man, who shots fairly well, pounds the boards and plays with a chip on his shoulder.
So why did Cousins “slip” in the draft to the fifth pick overall? Prior to the draft, nbadraft.net delved in Cousins’ character issues, writing: “So why isn't Cousins projected as a top 3 pick? One scout when asked about Cousins chances of going top 5 texted me this (over a week ago): ‘No way. mental issues. he is on bigtime meds i hear. not athletic enough for me talent wise …”
Cue my disdain for this Web site. How did this scout know such information? It’s time college athletic departments and professional teams take privacy laws seriously. There is also no legitimate reason to post a text attributed to an anonymous scout. NBA teams, who invest millions in their draft picks, have every right to evaluate players, especially guys who have some “red flags.” Teams can dig into their backgrounds, examine anything they want, including medical records. But, using the media to anonymously kill someone’s reputation should be out of bounds.
I like what John Calipari, who coached Cousins for one season, suggested about the ulterior motives of the scout who texted these rumors: “I’ve been in the NBA. That guy wants DeMarcus Cousins...So when you’re in the NBA, (you know) they all lie. Spread whatever rumor you can.”
Running a professional sports team is a high-stakes poker game. GMs and scouts should not be authorized to say anything to anyone about draft prospects, unless it is a misdirection. If that does not work, then the only smart play is, as Calipari suggested, to downplay players you might be interested in and hype those you know you’re not taking.
All this offseason obsessing reminds me of what legendary Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman once concluded about the entertainment industry: “Nobody knows anything.” We all can furiously argue about free agency and draft prospects now, but ultimately “the ball don’t lie,” as Rasheed Wallace perceptively observed. And then we’ll have some answers.