Tags: Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks
Tags: LeBron James
I love the artistry of basketball; the staccato dribbling of Chris Paul, the rhythmic passing of the San Antonio Spurs, the aerial improvisation of Blake Griffin. And yet I hate the game’s greatest artist, LeBron James.
That disconnect is irrational, unjustifiable and increasingly unsettling. Hatred towards anybody, regardless of the reason, is detrimental to the hater. It eats away at him. And it bothers me that I am depriving myself of the joy that can be derived from watching such a spectacular athlete.
My goal for the 2013-14 NBA season is to let go of that hatred. In order to do so, I must unearth its source. The problem lies with me, not LeBron.
It’s not the first time I have despised the greatest basketball player in the world. I hated Michael Jordan in his prime, though my reasons for doing so were clearer.
Jordan and his Chicago Bulls were the biggest obstacle between my beloved New York Knicks and a championship throughout most of the 1990s. The Bulls eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs four times that decade. (It was not a coincidence that the Knicks advanced to the Finals in the two seasons (‘94 and ‘99) after MJ retired for the first and second time.)
Jordan had what I wanted and I hated him for it. To some extent, that captures my feelings towards James. Yet, I like to think that as a 36-year-old man, jealousy alone is not at the root of my feelings.
I did not hate Dirk Nowitzki when the Dallas Mavericks won the championship in 2011, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant during their three-peat or Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Plus, unlike the 90s, the Knicks have not been championship contenders during James’ reign, and with the exception of 2012 playoffs, James has not stood directly in their path.
My animosity towards LeBron stems from something deeper. I am averse to change, and LeBron’s ascension has represented a drastic shift in the style and substance of the NBA, from the division of power between owners and players, to the brand of basketball being played, to the personalities and relationships of the athletes.
Michael Jordan has been the gold standard of the NBA, especially among fans of my generation. His shadow continues to linger over the game. Fans like myself and the media have been searching for the next Jordan, while glorifying the era in which he played.
Major changes have occurred gradually within the game over the past couple of decades (the move to small ball, increase in three point shots, decrease in fundamentals and team play, influence of AAU, branding of athletes, greater camaraderie among stars etc.), though no star has symbolized them like James.
Consider the elite players of the post-Jordan era. Shaquille O’Neal was a dinosaur, one of the last dominant back-to-the-basket big men, molded more by his military upbringing than AAU. Tim Duncan’s bland personality and old school game hardly scream 21st century superstar.
Sure, Kobe Bryant skipped college, but he spent most of his childhood fine-tuning his skills overseas. He is fundamentally sound, has played his entire career for one team and gives the impression that he hates his competition.
James has come to represent the AAU and “prep to pro,”/“one and done” era though he himself is highly skilled and extremely competitive.
His unique combination of size, skill and athleticism, allows the Heat to utilize a smaller lineup more effectively than other teams, further diminishing the significance of the seven-foot post player and ushering in greater reliance on the three-point shot. And he is often seen carousing with close friends like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.
LeBron infuriated hoops fans and players of previous generations, including Jordan, for violating playground etiquette by joining forces with two other elite players. Not only did he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh team up, they controlled the process by allegedly agreeing to do so a year beforehand.
The Decision was personal for me. James spurned my team and city when he signed with the Heat. The Knicks spent two years clearing cap space in the hopes of signing him and he openly flirted us the Knicks before rejecting them. I was angry because I knew the Knicks were missing out. There is no comparable alternative to the best player on the planet. New York has won one playoff series in the three years since “The Decision,” during which time Miami has made three consecutive trips to the Finals.
LeBron made a decision based upon what he believed was best for him and his family. Who am I to question that? I subscribe to the notion that you prove you are the best by beating the other top players, not joining them, but James is not required to agree with me. I am quick to criticize athletes who do not make winning their top priority. LeBron put winning first when he signed with the Heat.
His mistake was not in opting to play in Miami, so much as in the way in which he announced it. Plenty of great players before him signed with a new team via free agency or forced their team to trade them. They just did not to make their intentions known publicly during an hour-long television special.
His arrogance at the pep rally after he, Bosh and Wade signed with Miami, particularly, the infamous, “Not one, not two, not three, not four, etc.” championship proclamation caused plenty of people, including myself, to want him to fail. And I bow down to no man, particularly a kid in his 20s who refers to himself as “King James.”
But that’s just it, he was a kid in his 20s. I, like many others, am guilty of holding him to too high of a standard because of his exceptional gifts. James was 25 when he decided to take his talents to South Beach. At 25, I was still a student and had no idea how to conduct myself in the real world.
We all spend our 20s ironing out our personalities as we discover our place in society. But most of us do not do it in a fish bowl with billions of people watching our every move. I wish the biggest mistake of my 20s was a little too much bravado.
LeBron has matured immensely since joining the Heat. He no longer clowns around in the huddle prior to games and has abandoned his signature pre-game chalk toss. How long are I and others going to hold the minor mistakes of his youth against him?
James has never been arrested, linked to performance enhancing drugs, had a significant on-court encounter or been involved in any other type of real scandal.
For basketball fans, there is a great deal to like about him as a player beyond his remarkable physical gifts. He always plays hard, prioritizes defense, is dedicated to his craft, has incredible instincts and is exceptionally unselfish. James respects the history of the game and has embraced his role as ambassador for the sport. By all accounts, he is a great teammate.
He persevered through years of playoff failure and overcame a potentially disastrous disappearing act in the 2011 Finals before winning two championships, transforming from villain to hero in the process.
With the 24-hour news cycle and prevalence of social media, it is as if James is the star of his own Truman Show. We scrutinize every comment and move he makes as with no athlete before him.
Grand judgments based on limited information become inextricably linked with our feelings towards him as a player. Combined with often misguided or nostalgic notions about how the game should be played or players should carry themselves, it easy to form an unfavorable opinion about arguably the greatest athlete in the world.
Intellectually understanding that is one thing, allowing it to sink in on a visceral level is another. Hatred is sticky. It becomes part of our identity. Letting go of it requires us to admit that we have been deeply wrong for a long period of time.
I do not feel compelled to root for James, or even like him, though I will try to free myself up to enjoy him. Each moment I fail to is my loss.
Tags: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Tags: Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Rose, free agency, Maximum-salary contracts, NBA, Paul George
I recently suggested to a friend that it may not be in the Knicks’ best interest to sign Carmelo Anthony to a “max contract” if he opts out of his current deal next summer, as expected. “How can you say that Anthony is not worth a max deal when Sacramento just committed max dollars to DeMarcus Cousins,” he responded, with a look of disbelief.
Without delving into the merits of Cousins’ deal—a topic for another day—I explained to my friend that Cousins’ contract is worth a total of $62 million. A new “max deal” for Anthony would cost the Knicks in excess of $129 million.
The term “maximum-salary contract” or “max contract” for short, is generally used to describe a deal in which a player receives the most amount of money per season allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. The phrase is thrown around so haphazardly that many fans are under the false impression that all “max contracts” are equal. In fact, as demonstrated by the Cousins-Anthony comparison, max salaries can vary tremendously depending on numerous factors, including how the long the player has been in the league, his previous contract and the team he signs.
Under the CBA, players have both a minimum and maximum salary based on how many years they have played, though several exceptions apply. Players who have been in the NBA for 0-6 seasons can sign a deal worth up to 25 percent of the salary cap ($13,701,250 in 2013-14). Those who have spent 7-9 seasons in the league can earn up to 30 percent of the cap ($16,441,500 in 2013-14), and players with a tenure of 10 years or more can receive a maximum of 35 percent of the salary cap ($19,181,750).
Exceptions to the limits for players on rookie deals
The CBA limits the length of a rookie’s contract to four years. An exception to the rule is that each team can sign one “Designated Player” under a rookie contract to a five-year deal. Teams can only name one “Designated player” (A team cannot name a new designated player until the last one’s contract expires), though they can trade for another team’s designated player. No team can have more than two total designated players on its roster.
Members of the media have repeatedly referred to Cousins’ new contract as a “max deal” because he will be making the maximum amount of money allowed over a four-year period, though the label is misleading. The Sacramento Kings chose not to name him their “Designated Player,” though they were free to do so. They could have paid the talented big man the maximum amount allowed for an additional season.
Paul George, who like Cousins is heading into his fourth season, was recently named a “Designated Player” by the Indiana Pacers and signed a new five-year deal reportedly worth between $80 and $90 million, depending on the salary cap. You may recall that the Minnesota Timberwolves irked forward Kevin Love when they refused to name him their “Designated Player” in January, 2012. Minnesota signed Love to a four-year contract, opting to save the “Designated Player” label for Ricky Rubio.
There is even ambiguity in the term “max contract” as it applies to George’s deal.
The Derrick Rose Rule
The CBA includes an exception known as “The Derrick Rose Rule” (Rose was the only player it applied to when the CBA was passed in 2011) which allows a “Designated Player” to earn 30 percent of the salary cap (as opposed to the standard 25) if he meets certain criteria. To be eligible, the player must have been voted a starter in the All-Star Game twice, MVP or named to an All-NBA First, Second or Third Team twice. So far, only Rose and Blake Griffin have accomplished one of those feats on their rookie deals.
James Harden agreed to a provisional “5th year, 30 percent” deal with the Houston Rockets when he was traded to the team on the eve of the 2012-13 season, but failed to meet the criteria. Like Harden, George is guaranteed a fifth year, with his “30 percent” status contingent on him meeting the criteria. George was named to the All-NBA Third Team last season so he can cash in with another All-NBA selection.
The difference between Harden’s deal, which is limited to 25 percent of the cap and Griffin’s at 30 percent is in excess of $15 million.
Maximum-salary exceptions for veterans (The Larry Bird Exception)
Veteran contracts work a little differently. For starters, a free agent’s maximum salary in the first year of his new contract can never be less than 105 percent of his salary in the last year of his old contract. That rule applies even if it puts the player’s salary above the percentage of cap space typically allowed.
In general, like players on rookie contracts, veterans cannot sign deals longer than four years. The “Larry Bird Exception” is designed to provide incentive for players to re-sign with their old team. A player obtains “Bird rights” by playing for the same team or under the same contract for three consecutive seasons. Those rights transfer with a player if he is traded. They enable a player to re-sign with his current team for a greater duration (five years) and more money (with annual raises of up to 7.5 percent of his salary in the first season of the contract.)
Take Carmelo Anthony for example. He is scheduled to make $21,388,953 in 2013-14. If he opts out of his contract after this season he can sign a four-year deal with another team, beginning at $22.457 million (105 percent of $21.389) with increases based upon changes in the salary cap over the following seasons. If he re-signs with New York, he can make $22.457 in his first year, with annual increases of 7.5 percent of that $22.457 million ($1.684 million) for another four years. The rest of his contract would look like this:
2015-16: $24.141 million
2016-17: $25.825 million
2017-18: $27.509 million
2018-19: $29.193 million
Depending on the cap number over the next few seasons, the Knicks can offer him in the area of $33-$34 million more than other teams. That gives you an idea of how much money Dwight Howard left on the table when he relinquished his Bird rights to sign with the Houston Rockets instead of the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet, Howard’s contract with Houston is still referred to as a “max deal.”
If Anthony signs a max contract with the Knicks, he will be 34 years old in the last year of the deal and take up nearly half of the team’s cap space. It would be extremely difficult for New York to surround the star forward with the pieces necessary to win a championship. That is why I believe the Knicks should think twice before signing such an agreement.
Contracts signed under the previous CBA and a Kobe Bryant Mega-deal
Bird rights apply even if a player’s salary is in excess of 35 percent of the salary cap because it was signed under the old CBA. Kobe Bryant is owed $30,452,805 in the last season of a three-year extension he signed with the Lakers in 2010. In theory, the Black Mamba could sign a new maximum-salary contract with the Lakers that would start at just under $32 million. The remainder of the deal would shake out as follows:
The contract could total $183.859 million. That’s a lot more than the $62 million “max contract” Sacramento agreed to with Cousins. Of course, the Lakers will not offer their aging superstar anywhere near that amount, even though according to SI.com, Bryant has indicated that he does not plan on taking a pay cut next season.
* Salary cap information obtained from Larry Coon’s cbafaq.com
Tags: Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks