Doug Robinson: Uh, oh, Jazz fans, guess who moved into the neighborhood
SALT LAKE CITY — So what does the move West by LeBron James mean? Glad you asked …
It means you can get a really good deal on a No. 23 jersey in Cleveland. Prices have been slashed. Cavalier fans knew their second marriage to James was probably headed for another divorce, despite his often-repeated statement that he planned to finish his career there. They are cavalier about it. They’re not burning jerseys this time. Two days after James signed with the Lakers, the iconic photo of James on the side of the Sherwin-Williams Building came down. Time to move on. “Gone Again,” read the headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
It means the Lakers are back in business, but you knew this was going to happen. This is the way life works in the NBA. The big-market teams can change their fortunes overnight, while the rest of the league must toil for years just to build a competitive roster. This is especially true for the Lakers, it being advantageous to live in Hollywood (location, location, location!). The Lakers have never had to build teams because superstars just fall in their laps — Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and now James.
It means ratcheting up the arms race among the handful of super teams that have risen since The Decision and ruined the competitive balance in the NBA. The Lakers made a big move to overtake the champion Warriors by acquiring James. Then the Warriors, the two-time defending champs, answered by agreeing to terms with DeMarcus Cousins, giving them four of the top 10 players in the NBA. This is known as the rich getting richer. Your move, Lakers.
It means more super stars will be joining the Lakers, if not this summer, then next. The full effect of James joining the Lakers won’t be known for a year or two, or even longer. As rookie contracts expire, players will go hunting for max contracts and ready-made championship teams.
In this era of collusion — when players get on the phone and organize NBA teams as if they are planning a pickup game on the playground — James is likely to convince others to join him. It’s just one reason why the NBA is a remarkably uncompetitive league in which 90 percent of the teams have no hope of competing for a championship.
It means that several rising young Western Conference teams that have built — or are building — promising rosters the right way — through player development and the draft — just suffered a major setback. The Jazz, Blazers, Suns, Mavericks — as well as the more established Rockets, Pelicans and Thunder — just saw a major threat appear in the rearview mirror.
It means LeBron James’ path to the NBA Finals — which was a freeway through the Eastern Conference — just got much more difficult. He has reached the Finals nine times — including the last eight — but that was partly because the Eastern Conference offered little resistance. The Western Conference is vastly more talented.
On Sport Illustrated’s NBA player rankings last season, 14 of the top 20 players are in the West. Western Conference teams have won 14 of the last 20 NBA titles, as well. Two-thirds of the All-NBA teams in recent years — first, second and third teams — consist of players from the West. James will end the Lakers’ playoff drought of five years, but he’s not taking them to the NBA Finals.
It means the Eastern Conference just got weaker and opened the door for the Boston Celtics, who would’ve surpassed the Cavaliers last season if not for injuries to two star players. As it was, they still took the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
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It means the Lakers are on the clock to build a team around James, whose four-year contract will take him to age 38. A 38-year-old Super Bowl quarterback is one thing; a 38-year-old swingman in the NBA is quite another — it is ancient, especially for a player with a lot of miles on his body, which is certainly the case with James. He has averaged 39 minutes per game during his 15-year career and played almost 1,400 games (playoffs and regular season). He already ranks 20th in career minutes played.
It means that in the meantime we’re going to have to listen to the media once again make its tired, lame complaints about James’ supporting cast and any other excuses they can create. Brace yourself.
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Published at Wed, 04 Jul 2018 01:50:00 +0000