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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Our Decision: Stay Cool About the Heat

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The momentous news came, and somehow Earth maintained its rotation. After seven years of individual glory but no NBA titles, LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat in a superstar trio with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James snubbed the pleas of seemingly every celebrity and politician in New York to join the rich but lousy Knicks. And with ESPN's fawning assistance, he raised the bar for self-indulgence by commanding a full hour for "The Decision."

Frank arrived in New York for a family visit just a few hours after James' announcement. Amazingly, the city was still standing.

Frank: I landed at LaGuardia late Friday morning and couldn't wait to see how the tabloids expressed their fury. It was hilarious! The New York Post and Daily News were reduced to sputtering the same headline on their back pages: "SON OF A BEACH!"

Artie: New York, New York—headlines so great they use ’em twice.

Frank: Even better, the News whined on its front page, "Hey, we're New York, the greatest city in the world, so... WHO CARES!" The Post contented itself with, "LeBUM," while Newsday maintained a little dignity with "LeGone." On Sunday, Spike Lee wailed in The New York Times that the trio had this all planned for two years and "hoodwinked" the Big Apple.

Artie: Hey, it’s not the Heat, it’s the duplicity, ain’a? One good aspect of this over-hyped circus is that the Knicks are left with egg on their faces. They groveled to LeBron, dismantling an already bad team over two seasons to make room for his salary. Now they really have nothing; yeah, they signed Amar'e Stoudemire, but he's barely a No. 2 guy. He was only as good as he was in Phoenix because he played with Steve Nash.

Frank: Speaking of point guards, who does Miami have at this moment to get the ball to the new Big Three?

Artie: Mario Chalmers, a third-year guy out of Kansas. The Heat traded Michael Beasley to Minnesota to help clear salary-cap space, then signed Mike Miller as a three-point shooter, but they still need another rebounder, a good point guard and a true center. Which is why I wouldn't advise the Big Three to have their ring sizes taken in training camp. There are no guarantees!

Frank: Boston's Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen has won only one title in three seasons. In the ’80s Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale won three times but also lost twice to the Lakers of Magic, Kareem and James Worthy—who also fell short in the Finals three times in the decade.

Artie: Then there's Michael Jordan, LeBron's target as the all-time greatest player, who won all six of his Finals with the Bulls.

Frank: Jordan won his first title in his seventh season, 1990-’91. LeBron has completed his seventh season, but because he skipped college he's still only 25, three years younger than Jordan at that level of experience.

Artie: Ah, but there's this. Michael Wilbon pointed out in The Washington Post that James has a lot more "miles" on him than Jordan did at 25. James has played 548 regular-season games; when Jordan was 25 he had played only 312. Wilbon's point: James' "window" for winning multiple titles, "which is how legendary greatness is measured in the NBA, isn't as wide open as his age suggests."

Frank: As great as Jordan was, he had a great supporting cast. Not just Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, but those Bulls always seemed to get a key shot in the Finals from a little guy—Steve Kerr in the clincher against Utah in 1997, John Paxson against Phoenix in ’93 and even the immortal Bob Hansen in ’92 against Portland.

Artie: I think LeBron's choice of Miami shows he realizes he's not another Jordan. If he'd stayed in Cleveland or gone to New York, he would have continued to be THE GUY. But he hasn't delivered in that role; just one Finals appearance even though the Cavs kept adjusting the supporting cast. As much as he plays the showman, The King, The Chosen One, I think there's some self-doubt. In Miami he's got two other guys to carry him.

Frank: Which is realistic, but also contradicts the pomposity of "The Decision."

Artie: I hope he doesn't think he's going to be the Jordan of Miami. For me that's Wade, and LeBron is the uber-Pippen.

Frank: As much as he ticked off New York, it can't compare to what the son of Akron did to his fans in Ohio.

Artie: The Cavs' owner told Cleveland fans, "You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal." Wow, has LeBron opened a can of schadenfreude toward him there!

Frank: Um, what would that be?

Artie: German for "pleasure in another's misfortune." For Cleveland it's like pro wrestling, where a good guy suddenly gets reincarnated as a villain. The best part of that very dull show was when Wilbon was questioning LeBron and there was video of a James jersey someone had lit on fire. And LeBron looked shocked! This wasn't on his agenda or the memo from his "crew."

Frank: All top athletes have big egos, but some try harder to control it than others. The way James phrased his decision was telling: "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach."

Artie: This was ego to a supreme level. Well, now the King has abdicated; he's just part of three, so what does that make him, a duke?

Frank: So Miami becomes the team folks love to hate in the NBA. True for you?

Artie: As much as I like Wade from his Marquette days, I hope they have much difficulty. But another good thing is that this improves the Bucks' position in their division. Chicago added Carlos Boozer but is less than it would have been with LeBron. And Cleveland is certainly down. The Bucks have a real shot at first place in the Central.

Frank: As we said last week, the roster looks impressive.

Artie: A projected starting lineup of Andrew Bogut and Drew Gooden at the "big" spots, Carlos Delfino at small forward and Brandon Jennings and John Salmons in the backcourt—that's pretty dang good!

Frank: And off the bench there's Chris Douglas-Roberts at the "2"; Corey Maggette to share minutes with Delfino; Ersan Ilyasova and the top draft pick, Larry Sanders, to back up Gooden; and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for either forward spot and as a defensive stopper.

Artie: Listening to talk-radio in town, the fans are saying this is the best Bucks team since 2001, when they were one game away from the NBA Finals. But it looks like Luke Ridnour won't be re-signed, and that leaves a big hole yet to fill, that backup point guard.

Frank: Who's the only other point guard on the roster? Royal Ivey, right?

Artie: Yup. They need better.

Farewell, Jenks

Frank: Well, the Brewers went into the All-Star break on a three-game upswing, thanks to the woeful Pirates.

Artie: But that debacle against the Giants! A four-game butt-whipping by the NFL score of 36-7. Too bad the new scoreboard planned for 2011 wasn't in place already. They could have used the supersized screen to show something worth seeing—"Here's Transformers 2 for your viewing pleasure."

Frank: Besides the Pirates, there was another welcome visitor—Geoff Jenkins, who returned to formally retire as a Brewer. Jenkins was a genuinely nice guy—always accommodating to fans and the media. I'm glad his last at-bat in the majors was a double that led to the Phillies' winning run in the 2008 World Series.


Artie: Someone at the Journal Sentinel got in a nice dig, writing that to officially retire him, the Brewers would "place someone on each base and strike out Jenks on a pitch low and outside," or something like that.

Frank: Ouch! Yeah, he didn't totally fulfill fans' hopes, but he had a decent career over 11 seasons, 10 of them here—a .275 batting average and 221 homers. He was stuck on some pretty bad teams, but he played hard and played hurt.

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