Tag Archives: LeBron James

The Melodrama is back

NEW YORK — Took time out from the riveting media sessions leading up to the Super Bowl — Broncos coach John Fox: “I’m happy about the Chinese new year, and I’m happy that the animal is a horse” — to check in on the latest chapter in Carmelo Anthony’s love/hate relationship with whatever team happens to be paying him gobs of cash at any given moment.

That’s right, the Melodrama is back. Did you miss it?

Stop me when this sounds familiar: Anthony can opt out of his contract with the Knicks at the end of the season and he’s trying to figure out if the hardwood would be shinier someplace else.

He engaged in a similar Hamlet-like wrestling match with himself in Denver three years ago before the Nuggets, convinced he would leave as a free agent, traded him to New York and the bright lights, big city he craved. Remember how some Nuggets fans blamed Anthony’s wife, La La, for his determination to flee Denver? Remember the theory that she needed a bigger stage for her burgeoning career as a professional celebrity?

Well, they might have had a point. Monday was release day for her literary debut, The Love Playbook, with book signings all over Manhattan, appearances on the national morning TV shows and everything. But back to our rerun.

“I definitely think he will stay,” La La said Sunday on Bravo TV’s Watch What Happens Live. “I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.”

Wait, what? I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.

Anyway, here’s the money quote:

“Listen, I used to live in Denver with him. If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere. I just want him to be happy.”

If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere.

Odd echoes of the Sinatra line about New York — If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere — but not quite the same meaning.

The backlash was swift, and so was the back-pedal.

“Let me clarify this REAL QUICK,” she tweeted the following day. “When I said last night, ‘if I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere’ I meant living in a place with no family and no friends. I meant moving my entire life to a place I had never even been to before. In no way was I trying to disrespect Denver. I enjoyed Denver tremendously & love the city. — La La”

Glad we got that straightened out.

Anthony’s problem, of course, is the usual. He’s second in the NBA in scoring at 27.1 points per game, but his team stinks. At the moment, the Knicks are 18-27. In the woeful Eastern Conference, this record puts them just a half-game out of the playoff bracket. This is not good news for the Nuggets, who are owed the Knicks’ first-round pick in the coming NBA draft as part of the trade that sent him east in 2011.

If the Knicks miss the playoffs, that pick ends up in the draft lottery and could prove invaluable in a draft with some elite talent at the top. Because the West is so much stronger than the East, the Nuggets have a better record than the Knicks (22-21) but a worse position in the standings (2 1/2 games out of the playoff bracket). The Nuggets have to send the inferior of their draft picks to Orlando as part of the trade that brought them Andre Iguodala — temporarily, as it turns out — in 2012.

It’s all rather complicated, but one lesson seems clear: The Knicks wish they had their draft pick back. The Nuggets wish they had their draft pick back. Maybe this trading future draft picks for big-name players isn’t such a hot idea. But that’s another column.

In any case, that blockbuster 2011 trade isn’t working out that well for either team. The Nuggets received Danilo Gallinari, who blew out his knee last spring; Wilson Chandler, a talent who does more tantalizing than producing; Raymond Felton, who was exchanged for Andre Miller, who is now on indefinite leave from the team; and Timofey Mozgov, a nice if uninspiring big man. Neither team looks any closer to a championship now than when they made the deal.

Anthony’s comments about his situation are similar to his comments in Denver back in 2010. All he wants to do is win. He wants to go wherever that can happen.

“Championship is the only thing that’s on my mind, is the only thing I want to accomplish, I want to achieve,” he told reporters this week. “I’m going to do what I got to do to get that.”

Actually, he’s not. To get that, he probably needs to become a better team player rather than the sensational, one-dimensional scorer he has been throughout his career. In 10 seasons before this one, he has never appeared in an NBA Finals and only one conference final. His friend and peer, LeBron James, has won two titles and has his sights set on catching Kobe Bryant (five) and Michael Jordan (six). Melo, meanwhile, seems doomed to the Dominique Wilkins career path — lots of points, zero titles — unless he can hitch his wagon to somebody else’s team of horses.

The only way to lose his tag as a scorer who doesn’t make anybody else better is to win a championship or two, a feat he seems further from today than three years ago when he fled the Nuggets.

“The important thing is winning a championship; that’s the only way to shake it,” Bryant said the other day. “That’s the only way Michael shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer will be able to shake it.”

The Lakers are one team likely to have the space under the salary cap to sign Anthony if he’s a free agent on the open market this summer, but it’s not at all clear that adding another ballhog to a team that features the aging Bryant would give Kobe his best chance at title No. 6.

This isn’t our problem in Denver anymore, except insofar as it would help the Nuggets if the Knicks stink it up as badly as possible this season.

But think of poor La La.

“I get blamed for everything,” she said on Bravo. “No matter what happens, it’s my fault . . . I’m somehow the mastermind behind if he stays or not.”

Cue the late Warren Zevon: Poor Poor Pitiful Me.

By all accounts, La La’s book publicity tour is going swimmingly. It’s all about love and sex.

“The love at my book signing in NY yesterday was amazing!” she tweeted today. “Come out today at 7pm 271 Livingston street, Northvale, NJ Can’t wait to see you!!!”

Serious question: Can anybody here make a shot?

Erik Spoelstra looked like a man who’d just received an early Christmas present.

His team hadn’t won in Denver since long before he started coaching it — 10 years ago, in fact — and it arrived Thursday under circumstances known in the NBA as a fait accompli. Since the 2006-07 season, teams flying in from the west coast to play the second of back-to-back games were 2-26 against the Nuggets, largely because they seldom got to bed before the sun rose the day of the game.

This is the circumstance that so infuriated Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in 2009 that he made his top four players healthy scratches in apparent protest of the schedule makers — and nearly pulled out a win with his bench.

In this case, Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach, had no choice but to sit one of his stars. Dwyane Wade missed the game with a foot injury. To stretch his roster further, his other starting guard, Mario Chalmers, went out in the first quarter after taking a Kenneth Faried elbow to his triceps.

So the defending NBA champions were not only exhausted, they were also short-handed. Concluding a five-game road trip that had taken them from Atlanta to Los Angeles, the Heat was riding for a fall.

The Nuggets’ plan in such games is generally as simple as it is predatory: Take advantage of the visitors’ fatigue by having the public address announcer remind them of the elevation and then run them into the ground with a turbocharged offense fueled by Ty Lawson, their jet of a point guard.

Rested and waiting for the Heat after two days off and motivated by a narrow loss in Miami less than two weeks before, Thursday night’s late TNT game at the Pepsi Center (a made-for-TV 8:45 p.m. tip) seemed scripted for payback.

Instead, the Nuggets came out lethargic, inexplicably failed to cover Miami’s myriad three-point shooters and, as has been their custom in the early going of the new season, couldn’t make a three ball or a free throw themselves. They were down eight after one quarter and 12 at the half. At some point, it occurred to the tired visitors that they might actually win the thing.

“We came too far to let that game slip away from us,” LeBron James said afterward.

The Heat controlled the pace of the game until the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets made a frantic run that was too little, too late.

“A little bit of adversity, Dwyane being out, ‘Rio having to come out in the first quarter, and then the challenge of playing to the west coast to here,” Spoelstra said.

“We didn’t want to come in with any excuses. The thing about this ball club, the one thing you can’t knock them about is rising to challenges. I could tell even from the walk-through today that it wasn’t just about showing up and laying down, but really trying to overcome the odds. Everybody was so well aware of what the record is in the last three or four years here when you’re coming from the west coast. So it shows the character of our group.”

Seriously? Winning a regular season game now demonstrates character?

Fine, whatever. But what did it show about the new-look Nuggets, other than the possibility they were blinded by their own phosphorescent new yellow uniforms?

Well, let’s see. They’re not running at anything like the pace of the past. After leading the NBA in scoring the past two seasons, they rank 10th through their first nine games. They are down from 107 and 104 points per game to 98 in the early going this year. Against a team ripe to be run into the ground, they played at a lugubrious pace that produced just 66 through three quarters, finishing with 93 after their belated rush.

“They’re a smart team,” said veteran Andre Miller, who almost willed the Nuggets to victory on his own with a brilliant fourth quarter. “They’ve got guys over there that have been to the Finals and you’ve got veterans — Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, you got Ray Allen, you got Shane (Battier). Those guys over there are smart and know how to control the game and know how to take out a transition. And they did that.”

The Nuggets’ decline in scoring is partly a function of pace, but it’s also a natural result of the fact that they aren’t shooting well. At all.

Through their first nine games, they rank 16th in field goal percentage (.436), 25th in three-point percentage (.300) and 30th (out of 30) in free-throw percentage (.647). Thursday night they missed six of 19 foul shots, including two in a row by Faried with his team down five points and 2:19 remaining in the game.

“The one that scares me a little bit is our free throws,” coach George Karl said. “Free throws have an effect on your other shooting. There’s a confidence that comes from making free throws and if you don’t make free throws, sometimes that confidence rubs off on other shots. It’s a mental thing.”

Lawson, allegedly their emerging star, was a zero, and I mean that strictly in the arithmetic sense. He totaled zero points in 36 minutes, missing all seven of his shots, not getting to the free throw line once and failing to ignite the frenetic pace he fired up the past two seasons.

“We’ve got to start making shots,” Karl admitted. “We’ve got to make free throws and we’ve got to make threes.”

It is way too early to judge the Nuggets’ big off-season move — trading shooter Al Harrington and 2-guard Arron Afflalo for Andre Iguodala — but it is not too early to observe that their best player for the moment is Miller, a 36-year-old guard, which is not that good a sign for a team ostensibly full of budding young stars.

If the Nuggets have a big three, they are Lawson, Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari, each averaging more than 35 minutes a game. Their shooting percentages, respectively, are .383, .441 and .322.

“We need more, probably, from Ty, Gallo and Iguodola,” Karl acknowledged.

And, if I may interject a question from the cheap seats, why is Kosta Koufos starting for this team? The 7-footer spent 14 minutes on the court doing a pretty good impression of a streetlamp. In the second half, Karl subbed him out after barely three minutes.

JaVale McGee gets most of the minutes in the middle — he had 18 points, six boards and four blocked shots in 21 on Thursday — but Karl doesn’t like to play him beside Faried for too long because they both tend to gamble defensively. When they’re on the floor together, it produces unreliable defensive rotations. But against a Miami team without a center, I could only conclude that Koufos either has pictures of somebody in the organization or holds the solution to the Greek debt crisis.

I know, it’s early. At 4-5, having played only three home games, the Nuggets are in the midst of surviving an early stretch in the schedule that has them playing nine of their first 12 on the road. Still, when your best-looking outside shooter is 22-year-old Jordan Hamilton, barely a member of the playing rotation when everyone is healthy, that’s a problem.

The Nuggets are built for speed and defense. Their offense is supposed to be fired by their defense and transition game. Theoretically, they don’t have to shoot from the perimeter much because they score so much in the paint and on the break.

They do win most of the hustle categories most of the time. They beat the Heat in points in the paint (50-24), fast break points (19-6) and second-chance points (22-12). They did a nice job crowding James, holding him to 11-of-23 shooting, although this left lots of three-point shooters wide open, including young Norris Cole, who hit the dagger with 1:03 remaining and the Nuggets down by one.

Unfortunately, the home team’s crooked shooting made all their extra hustle possessions necessary just to stay close. Miami had one fewer field goal on 11 fewer attempts. The Heat outscored them 39-18 from long distance. Without Wade and Chalmers, Spoelstra surrounded LeBron with three-point shooters and dared the Nuggets to cover them. The Nuggets largely declined. Battier hit six of seven threes; Miller, four of eight.

“There’s a process,” Karl said. “Our personality is different. Andre Iguodola is different from Al and Arron and we have to learn this team’s personality of winning. I don’t think we’re that far away from getting that done.”

I wouldn’t be surprised. No one in the NBA is better than Karl at adapting to his talent. On the other hand, it’s hard to win consistently in the NBA if you can’t shoot, and it’s really hard to win playoff series if you can’t shoot.

Not long ago, TNT analyst Steve Kerr said he thought Gallinari had regressed since coming to Denver from New York. In his early days as a Knick, Kerr thought he would be a great three-point shooter. Now he’s a guy who seems to shoot mostly off-balance, fadeaway jumpers. He’s shooting .222 from long distance in the early going.

Granted, there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks of yet another chemistry experiment. But if the shooting doesn’t come around in a month or two, general manager Masai Ujiri might have to look at making another move.

A modest proposal to save the slam-dunk contest

“America,” Charles Barkley intoned Saturday night, just before the NBA slam dunk contest began, “got a better chance of knowing who Dwyane Wade’s kid is.”

He was referring to this year’s slam dunk contestants, the most anonymous ever assembled for an event that . . . how to put this kindly . . . is well past its prime.

We know something about this. The slam dunk contest was invented in Denver, by former Nuggets general manager Carl Scheer. It was inaugurated in Denver at halftime of the final all-star game of the old American Basketball Association, in 1976.

Julius Erving, then playing for the New York Nets, edged David “Skywalker” Thompson of the Nuggets. Watching high-flying dunks was still novel back then. The dunk had just become a legal play in college basketball. When the ABA merged with the NBA later that year, Scheer’s innovation was lost in the tradition-bound older league.

Eight years later, in search of a little buzz for its own mid-season exhibition, the NBA brought its all-star weekend to Denver for the first time and added a dunk contest to spice it up. Dr. J reprised his soaring throw-down from the free-throw line, but Larry Nance won.

In the early years of the NBA version, many of the game’s biggest stars took part. Dominique Wilkins, The Human Highlight Film, won twice, in 1985 and 1990. Michael Jordan took back-to-back dunk titles in 1987 and ’88.

Spud Webb, at 5-foot-7, beat Dominique, his Atlanta teammate, in Dallas in 1986, providing both the appeal of the underdog and the thrill of the upset. Alas, the contest has rarely had either since.

Props were rare in those days. Gerald Wilkins, Dominique’s brother, jumped over a folding chair. That was about it.

By the late ’90s, the thrill was gone. Pretty much every way to dunk a basketball had been tried. Star players quit taking part. The league finally shut it down. There was no slam-dunk contest in 1998 or ’99. They brought it back in 2000 and got a brief bump from Vinsanity, named for Vince Carter, which preceded this year’s Linsanity, named for Jeremy Lin. Pretty much everything comes back around if you wait long enough.

Last year, there was at least one report that the contest was rigged for rookie-of-the-year Blake Griffin, who jumped over the hood of a car he endorses on the side. The contest was veering dangerously toward a cheap imitation of Cirque du Soleil.

This year it sank lower still. The contestants were Chase Budinger of Houston, Jeremy Evans of Utah, Paul George of Indiana and Derrick Williams of Minnesota. If you could pick any of these people out of a lineup, have a Cheez Doodle.

None has been in the league more than three years. Three of the four average fewer than 10 points per game. Evans, declared the winner in a fan vote (this year’s innovation), averages 1.7 points a game for the Jazz.

Introducing one of them, announcer Kevin Harlan began, “Not a lot of people know about him . . . “

Replied Barkley: “You can say that again.”

Having run out of new dunks, they jumped over players, motorcycles and, in one case, a short comedian. They are not only out of compelling contestants, they are out of ideas.

LeBron James suggests a $1 million prize to encourage marquee stars to participate again, a tacit admission that only bribery can breathe life back into this thing.

I have another idea. Some of the most compelling contests have been won by the shortest dunkers. There’s no thrill in watching tall guys dunk. Of course they can. Webb’s win was mesmerizing and 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson proved that short human trick could be duplicated, triplicated and quadruplicated when he won in 2006, 2009 and 2010, becoming the first three-time dunk champion.

Watching little guys dunk is fun. Watching tall guys dunk is boring. So make it a 6-foot and under contest. Because the NBA measures players with their shoes on, adjust it to a 6-2 and under contest, which would still leave it a 6-foot and under contest in real life.

Fifty-one players on current NBA rosters would have been eligible this year, including Rajon Rondo of the Celtics, Kemba Walker of the Bobcats, Jason Terry of the Mavericks, Ty Lawson of the Nuggets, Nate Robinson of the Warriors, Chris Paul and Mo Williams of the Clippers, Brandon Jennings of the Bucks, Jimmer Fredette of the Kings and Tony Parker of the Spurs. Here’s the full list:

Avery Bradley, 6-2, Boston

Rajon Rondo, 6-1, Boston

Jannero Pargo, 6-1, Atlanta

Jeff Teague, 6-2, Atlanta

D.J. Augustin, 6-0, Charlotte

Kemba Walker, 6-1, Charlotte

John Lucas, 5-11, Chicago

C.J. Watson, 6-2, Chicago

Daniel Gibson, 6-2, Cleveland

Rodrigue Beaubois, 6-2, Dallas

Jason Terry, 6-2, Dallas

Ty Lawson, 5-11, Denver

Andre Miller, 6-2, Denver

Will Bynum, 6-0, Detroit

Walker Russell Jr., 6-0, Detroit

Nate Robinson, 5-9, Golden State

Jonny Flynn, 6-0, Houston

Kyle Lowry, 6-0, Houston

Darren Collison, 6-0, Indiana

George Hill, 6-2, Indiana

A.J. Price, 6-2, Indiana

Eric Bledsoe, 6-1, L.A. Clippers

Chris Paul, 6-0, L.A. Clippers

Mo Williams, 6-1, L.A. Clippers

Derek Fisher, 6-1, L.A. Lakers

Mike Conley, 6-1, Memphis

Jeremy Pargo, 6-2, Memphis

Josh Selby, 6-2, Memphis

Mario Chalmers, 6-2, Miami

Norris Cole, 6-2, Miami

Brandon Jennings, 6-1, Milwaukee

J.J. Barea, 6-0, Minnesota

Luke Ridnour, 6-2, Minnesota

Jordan Farmar, 6-2, New Jersey

Sundiata Gaines, 6-1, New Jersey

Mike Bibby, 6-2, New York

Toney Douglas, 6-2, New York

Chris Duhon, 6-1, Orlando

Jameer Nelson, 6-0, Orlando

Ishmael Smith, 6-0, Orlando

Louis Williams, 6-1, Philadelphia

Ronnie Price, 6-2, Phoenix

Sebastian Telfair, 6-0, Phoenix

Raymond Felton, 6-1, Portland

Nolan Smith, 6-2, Portland

Jimmer Fredette, 6-2, Sacramento

Isaiah Thomas, 5-9, Sacramento

T.J. Ford, 6-0, San Antonio

Tony Parker, 6-2, San Antonio

Anthony Carter, 6-1, Toronto

Earl Watson, 6-1, Utah

That’s a lot of potential contestants. And if enough of these guys aren’t willing, embarrass them by showing this video of Webb dunking at age 47. Now, that’s entertainment.