Saturday, July 7, 2018

J-Speaks: The Inevitable for Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder


After a disappointing finish to their season, losing in the opening round against the Utah Jazz in six games, the Oklahoma City Thunder had three very important objectives in the 2018 NBA off-season. Re-sign Paul George, which they did to a new four-year, $137 million deal. Keep some of the key role players, while adding depth to the roster. In the draft, the Thunder selected guard Devon Hall out of Virginia and forward Kevin Hervey in June with the No. 53 and No. 57 pick respectably. In free agency they re-signed forward Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27 million deal and backup guard Raymond Felton to a one-year, $2.4 million deal. The one move that really put the squeeze on the Thunder’s payroll was the other star they added last off-season decided to opt-in to the final year of his contract, which has put them at a major crossroads where his short time with the team will eventually come to a conclusion. 
One week ago, 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, who the Thunder acquired in the summer of 2017 decided to opt in to the final year of the five-year contract he signed with the New York Knicks in the summer of 2014 when he was a free agent. By opting in, Anthony will be making $27.9 million for the 2018-19 NBA campaign. 
That move by Anthony along with the other moves the Thunder made this season put them at a historic payroll, that consists of a combined salary for the upcoming season along the luxury tax of $310 million. 
For a team that in the time of having General Manager Sam Presti at the helm, the Thunder have been a team that was never willing to pay into the luxury tax at that high of a number, which is why a few years ago, they decided to trade now All-Star and the most recently named league MVP James Harden to the Houston Rockets instead of keeping him and having to pay him a huge contract. 
This is likely going to be the same case for Anthony as his agent, Leon Rose of CAA Sports and Mr. Presti are working through three scenarios which will culminate in the inevitable ending of Anthony’s brief stay with the Thunder which could deliver according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks a $107 million in savings. 
The first scenario the Thunder could use to move the 34-year-old Anthony on is to waive him and use the stretch provision, which would slash $90 million in luxury tax, which would shrink the Thunder’s bill from $150 million to $60 million. It would spread Anthony’s salary annually onto OKC’s cap for $9.3 million dollars over three years, according to a espn.com article by Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young. 
The first plan of attack the Thunder said they would try to move on from Anthony would be to trade him to a team looking to acquire a massive aspiring contract to make free salary-cap space for free agency in 2019. 
If the Thunder decide to go this route, Anthony holds nearly all the cards in this scenario because of the no-trade clause in his contract, which is why the Knicks when Phil Jackson was team president could not get him off their books. That whatever possible trade they came up he would have to okay it. 
If the trade is just a way for the Thunder to dump Anthony’s salary with the understanding of whoever acquires him would waive him and allow Anthony to become an unrestricted free agent. 
Among the team’s that would express interest in the small forward are the Rockets, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers. 
The last but unlikely scenario that would take place is the Thunder simply buy Anthony out of his contract. Meaning, paying him close to his salary of $27.9 million and allow him to be an unrestricted free agent. 
This is not the way Anthony, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist envisioned his time with the Thunder, who when he was acquired to join George and 2017 league MVP Russell Westbrook in hopes of contending for Western Conference supremacy against the now back-to-back NBA champion Golden State Warriors. 
When Anthony joined the Thunder, he had to accept a new role that featured going from his natural starting position of small forward to power forward, where he was asked to become more of a perimeter spot-up, catch-and-shoot stretch-four. 
It took time for Anthony to adapt to his role, and while there were times he played like the player that became known as one of the most special scorers in NBA history, he never fully got comfortable as a stretch-forward. 
While he made a career-high 169 three-pointers during the regular season for the Thunder, who went 48-34 on the season to finish No. 4 in the rugged West, Anthony averaged a career-low 16.2 points, on a career-low 40.4 percent from the field. He did though provide a third legitimate third scorer behind Westbrook and George. 
“The reality for Carmelo is he had plenty of chances last season to be the guy,” ESPN’s Nick Friedell said on the 6 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “NBA: The Jump.” 
“He had plenty of open looks within the offense with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. It didn’t happen. The question to me is will his ego allow him after what will be likely a Hall of Fame career to come off a bench somewhere and have a reduced role from what he’s used to all these years later?” 
In the Quarterfinals against No. 5 Seeded Utah Jazz (48-34) despite having home court advantage, the “Big Three” of the No. 4 Seeded Thunder (48-34) were out of sink and were taken down 4-2 and bringing their season to a disappointing end. 
Anthony really struggled in the series scoring an average of just 11.8 points, shooting an abysmal 37.5 percent from the floor and 21.4 percent from three-point range. 
The frustration for Anthony really showed in Game 5 when the Thunder overcame a 25-point deficit to for a 107-99 victory on Apr. 25 to close the series gap to 3-2. 
While Westbrook had 33 of his 45 points in the second half, with 15 rebounds and seven assists and George had 34 points and eight boards of his own, Anthony had just seven points and five rebounds on 2 for 6 shooting, playing just 26 minutes in total. 
When he was subbed out in the third period, the Thunder were behind 71-53, when he came back into the game in the fourth quarter, they were ahead 88-87. 
During the Thunder spectacular comeback, Anthony emphatically pleaded with Hall of Fame assistant coach Maurice Cheeks to get back into the game. 
In the 96-91 loss at the Jazz two nights later that ended their season as mentioned in six games, Anthony again played just 26 minutes and just seven points and three boards on 3 for 7 shooting. While Westbrook had 46 points, 10 boards, five assists and two steals, George scored just five points on 2 for 16 from the field with eight assists. 
Following a difficult end to their season, Anthony expressed his frustrations with his role, which led to the inevitable parting of the ways with the Thunder. 
“I don’t think I can be effective as that type of player,” he said. “I think I was willing to accept that challenge in that role, but I think I bring a little bit more to the game as far as being more knowledgeable and what I still can do as a basketball player.” 
The other thing that Anthony made very clear is he would never accept a role coming off the bench. 
Despite those though comments following the season, both GM Presti and head coach Billy Donovan praised Anthony for his professionalism throughout the season. 
“I think he’s being very candid and very honest. I respect that. I respect the fact he’s being open about that,” Presti said. “Now, we have the same responsibility. We have to be candid and honest with him. One of the things I really like about Carmelo is he’s a mature person. You can talk to him. He listens. He’s been professional with us within the building. I’m sure there are nights he was frustrated because it’s a big transition that he’s trying to make—was trying to make—this season… We don’t know exactly how our team is going to look.” 
Before opting in to the final year of his contract prior to the June 29th deadline, the Thunder communicated with Anthony and his representatives about plans for next season, which had the possibility of him having an even lesser role with the team. 
When Anthony waived his no-trade clause to be dealt to the Thunder last summer, he understood he would be playing power forward, like he did in his time with Team USA and that his role would be as the team’s third offensive option. 
He said that he “accepted” his role in December 2017 after a meeting with the team in ironically enough in New York. 
While he had a solid start to the season, scoring an average of 22.9 points the first seven games of the season on 46.5 percent from the field, he averaged 17.8 and 15.1 points in November and December 2017, on 38.7 and 40.7 percent from the floor respectably.
Things got a little better scoring wise to start the New Year with a scoring average of 18.1, but Anthony followed that up with averages on 13.4, 13.3 and 14.2 the final 2 ½ months of the regular season, and he shot a dismal 38.0 percent from the field following the All-Star break. 
With the end of Anthony’s time with the Thunder looming, the question is whenever he is released, traded, or bought out of the final year of his deal what is next for him. 
While it looks good on paper for him to join the Lakers (35-47) and be teamed up with their newest addition and his closet friend LeBron James, four-time league MVP, he would be in crowded front court with roster that consists of the most recent signings of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee along with youngsters Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart. 
If he can find his way to the Rockets, who were the No. 1 Seed in West with a franchise record 65 wins in the regular season he would fit a need for them at the small forward spot as last season’s starter Trevor Ariza signed a one-year $15 million deal to join the Phoenix Suns and they were the team that had the defending champion Warriors, the No. 2 Seed at 58-24 on the ropes in the Western Conference Finals but lost the series in seven games. 
The one issue is that he would be playing again for head coach Mike D’Antoni, who he had with the Knicks and it was reported that the relationship did not go so well a few years back. 
Byron Scott, three-time champion with the Lakers in the 1980s and former head coach with the New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans then Hornets and Lakers said that if Anthony wants to be a Rocket he has to understand that he will be the third and even the fourth or fifth offensive option with fewer offensive touches that he has been used to in his career. 
“If he’s willing to accept that role and just say, ‘Listen, I just want to focus in on winning,’ then Houston would be the best place for him,” Scott said. 
If the Heat come a calling and Anthony answers, he would be back in the Eastern Conference and be a part of a team where he would provide them a go-to scorer that they were serious lacking a season ago. 
The issue in playing for the Heat (44-38), who were the No. 6 Seed in East lost in the opening round against the No. 3 Seeded Philadelphia 76ers (52-30) in five games is that is he ready to be part of a team that takes being in tip-top condition very seriously. 
“I think there are places in this league, good teams that need a Carmelo Anthony more than just our desire for a reunion of buddies,” ESPN’s Amin Elhassan said on “NBA: The Jump” on Anthony reuniting with James in L.A. or joining Dwyane Wade likely with the Heat, if he decides to comeback for another year.

In the late stages of the summer of 2017, Carmelo Anthony waived his no-trade clause to be dealt from the New York Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He changed his game and his role on the team to for a chance at winning a title. He struggled for much of the season. He had a rough return to the postseason that ended at the hands of the Utah Jazz in five games. He made the decision to opt in to the final year of his five-year deal of $27.9 million and seems to be the odd man out with that high salary
No matter where Anthony ends up, he has to come to a major realization. He is not the player he once was where he can carry a team. His one-on-one isolation, dribble for five to 10 seconds of the 24 second clock until the best offensive option opens up does not work in today’s NBA that relies on ball movement, player movement and making spot-up or penetrate-and-kick three-pointers. Also, he has to come to the understanding that coming off the bench is not the worst thing in the world. 

When you have in your 15 seasons in "The Association" have seen your postseason run end in the First Round nine times; missed the postseason four times, all with the Knicks; two appearances in the Semifinals; one appearance in the Conference Finals and no appearances in The NBA Finals, Anthony's priority should be to do whatever it takes to get to a team that has a chance to compete for the only that has eluted him in his career, the Larry O’Brien trophy. 
“I think for me, my focus would be on kind of figuring out what I want out of the rest of my career, what I want in my future, what am I willing to accept, if I’m willing to accept that at all,” Anthony said back in April. “I think everybody know that I’ve sacrificed kind of damned near everything –family, moving here by myself, sacrificed my game—for the sake of the team, and was willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order for this situation to work out.”
“So, it’s something I really have to think about—if I really want to be this type of player, finish out my career as this type of player, knowing that I have so much left in the tank and I bring so much to the game of basketball.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 7/5/18 6 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Jorge Sedano, Ramona Shelburne and Dahntay Jones; 7/6/18 6 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPNEWS with Rachel Nichols, Amin Elhassan, Nick Friedell and Mike Schmitz; 7/6/18 7 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Byron Scott, Amin Elhassan, and Chris Haynes; www.nba.com/draft/2018/teams/OKC#/; 7/6/18 www.espn.com article, “Sources: Thunder, Carmelo Anthony to Part Ways This Summer,” by Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young and www.espn.com/nba/player/splits/_/id/1975/carmelo-anthony.

Friday, July 6, 2018

J-Speaks: Back-to-Back Champions Warriors Add Another All-Star, Sort Of


So far in 2018 NBA Summer free agency we have not had that sudden shocking move that shook up the landscape. Four-time league MVP LeBron James agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year, $153.3 million deal. All-Star Paul George agreed re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder on a four-year, $137 million. All-Star Chris Paul agreed to return to the Houston Rockets on a four-year, $160 million deal. In the early stages of this week, we finally got that shocking move that brought that buzz around the league as one of the best big men in the league signed with the defending champions. 
On Monday, All-Star center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, who missed the final 34 games and the postseason for the New Orleans Pelicans after tearing his left Achilles on Jan. 26 versus the Rockets agreed to a one-year, $5.3 million deal with the back-to-back NBA champion Golden State Warriors. 
To put how shocking this move was into context, everybody from the players to fans had a reaction, and they expressed their feelings on social media. 
The main positive reactions came from his newest teammates where two-time league MVP Stephen Curry @StephenCurry30 tweeted, “The 3rd Splash Brother. Let’s go.” 
The Finals MVP from the Warriors first title in 2015 Andre Iguodala “@andre” tweeted, “Big fella!!!!”
Last season’s Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star Draymond Green “@Money23Green” tweeted, “Yeah man…crazy!!! Santorini is a blast!” 
Opponents of the champs in three of the last four seasons where not as gleeful, like Los Angeles Clippers restricted free agent guard Patrick Beverly “@patbev21,” who tweeted, “Man cmon man!!!”
Utah Jazz reserve sharp shooting forward Jae Crowder “@CJC9BOSS” tweeted, “WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE GUYS.!??”
New York Knicks power forward/center Enes Kanter “@enes_kanter” tweeted, with a photo of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a Warriors uniform “Adam Silver has agreed to a Mid-Level Extension with the Golden State, league sources tell ME.” 
Kanter’s teammate in reserve guard Emmanuel Mudiay “@emmanuelmudiay” tweeted, “WHAT IS GOING ON.”
Even a couple of NFL teams got in on the act with the Arizona Cardinals “@AZCardinals” tweeting, “Sorry, @Warriors. You can’t have @LarryFitzgerald.” 
The Pittsburgh Steelers “@steelers” tweeted in reference to their star receiver Antonio Brown, “No, @Warriors…you cannot have @AB84.” 
Even the seafood chain Jimmy’s Seafood “@jimmysSeafood” tweeted, “Free crab cakes every time the Warriors lose a game this season.”
Jokes aside, the reason Cousins, a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA Second Team selection joined an already stack team in the Warriors with Green, Curry, back-to-back Finals MVP in Kevin Durant and fellow All-Star Klay Thompson is he was a player that suffered the kind of injury that many players with the exception of Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins rarely fully recover from. 
On top of that, the Pelicans agreed to terms with former Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle on a two-year, $18 million deal made the 27-year-old Cousins expendable. 
Before injuring his leg and missing the remainder of the season as mentioned back in late January, Cousins was averaging 25.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists on 35.4 percent from three-point range. 
The injury not to mention the really bad reputation that stems from his early years with the Sacramento Kings when they have simply been the doormats of “The Association” not making the playoffs for 12 straight seasons soured a lot of people on Cousins and it resulted in his agent not even getting a phone call from the other 28 other teams to simply have a meeting. 
Cousins said to Marc J. Spears of “The Undefeated” he was confused and hurt by the fact he got no offers, especially from the Pelicans who acquired him out of purgatory of the capital of California at the All-Star break the prior season. 
He also said to Spears when he and his agent were going over his options, which included the Warriors, whose center the past two seasons, as both a starter and reserve JaVale McGee agreed to a deal with the Lakers.
Sources said to ESPN’s Chris Haynes that the other team that Cousins had interest in was the Eastern Conference runner-up the Boston Celtics. 
After a conversation with the President of Basketball Operations with the Warriors Bob Myers, which included a discussion of the details of the contract and conversations with Curry, Durant and Green, who were his teammates on Team USA, Cousins called Myers and said he would sign. 
The Warriors used their taxpayer midlevel exception to seal the deal for Cousins, who after suffering that torn Achilles on Jan. 26 as mentioned had it surgically repaired. 
He has been rehabbing the injury since and said to Spears he is aiming to be recovered by training camp, but a realistic timetable for Cousins to even be back on the floor would be in December or January 2019 at the latest. 
The move also gives Cousins time to fully recover from his torn Achilles, show that he is close to the form he had prior and rejoin the free agent market in the summer of 2019 to sign that max-level deal he would had received if he had not gotten injured. 
We have to remember, this was a player that went from being on cloud nine a little over half way through the 2017-18 season and in the closing moments of the game on Jan. 26 he came crashing down to a serious reality that his NBA career was in serious jeopardy. 
With one phone call that was witnessed by the camera of “Showtime” for an NBA special that will be aired later this year, Cousins after speaking on the phone with the defending champions flash the W sign with his right hand and said with a smile on his face, “I’m a Warrior.”
Yes, the Warriors should not have had a chance in the world to sign a talent like DeMarcus Cousins to a contract that is one-seventh of the salary that he would be making per year if he had signed a max contract somewhere else. That is what the new salary cap was supposed to prevent from happening. 
“The rich just keep getting richer,” was what former NBA head coach and three-time NBA champion with the Lakers Byron Scott said on the Tuesday edition “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN. “This is one of the best teams in the league and they get a player of that caliber for one year at the minimum. So, I was really shocked by it and kind of thrown back a little bit.”
Cousins would have been in line for a major pay day had he not injured his Achilles shelving him for the remainder of this past season, but he did and that injury where takes eight months to a year of rehabilitation to recover from scared a lot of teams off. 
On top of that as Rachel Nichols pointed out on her show “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN on Tuesday, 67 percent, which is two-thirds of the NBA’s squads did not even enter this crazy tight summer of free agency with zero salary cap space and the fact as mentioned earlier front offices continued to have questions about the attitude of Cousins. 
This is how we got to Cousins telling Spears that zero teams made what he called, “serious offers.”
That led to his agent reaching out to the Warriors, which really seems to be a perfect fit for Cousins on a number of levels aside from the money. 
He will be a part of a team that will give him the necessary time for him to rehab and get as close to 100 percent as possible. 
The Warriors have a solid locker room where they believe in the moto that has been their playoff rallying cry the past four seasons, which has seen them go to The Finals, “Strength in Numbers.” 
As good as the main headliners of Curry, Thompson, and Durant with the ultimate swiss army knife in Green have been individually, it has been the collectiveness to play, work and be united as a team that has gotten them over the top. 
It also helps that Curry and Thompson have had experience with Cousins with team USA and all indications that they have been nothing but solid during that period together. 
A clip from a 2014 during a Team USA practice has someone asking Cousins who is practicing shooting three-pointers, “Who are you DeMarcus?” 
His answer was, “The third ‘Splash Brother,” in reference to the nickname of the starting backcourt of the Warriors in Curry and Thompson. 
Cousins missed two straight triples during that clip and Curry responded by saying, “We’re still taking applications, don’t worry.” 
Say what you will about the kind of person DeMarcus Cousins is. He has had his moments where he was unhinged in how he dealt with the referees when he was called for fouls he felt were unwarranted. How he dealt with some of his coaches when he was with the Sacramento Kings like one of the greats to ever be on an NBA sideline in George Karl. 
The bottom line is that DeMarcus Cousins is a supremely gifted basketball player who chance at a super-max contract was lost when he was traded to the Pelicans against his wishes, and he found out about the trade during postgame interviews with the media. He lost his chance at a regular max deal when he got hurt.  
Now Cousins is fighting through a grueling painful rehab with no real guarantees of returning to the dominant scoring and rebounding, passing front court player who could perform on the hardwood with ease. 
The Warriors gave him at least a shot of getting back on the hardwood see if he can become that player again and help the Warriors win a third straight Larry O’Brien trophy and fourth in five seasons in the process.
Prior to the signing of Cousins, the Warriors were a -110 favorite to win the 2019 NBA title according to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. By him signing, those chances increased to a -175.
“People want to go and play for teams that win and teams that have great culture,” Scott said of wanting to be part of a championship like the Warriors. 
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst added to that by saying that the Warriors are so good and that they have the kind of roster where that they can afford to take a flyer on a great talent that may not play for the first six to seven months of this upcoming season. 
“If ‘Boogie’ at $5 million a year helps them win three playoff games Rachel, it would have been a wonderful investment, and if he has nice last two months of the season and rebuilds his value it will be perfect for him.”
What should also be pointed out is that fans as well as the players need to just in the words of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said once during a rough stretch of their season a couple of years back, “R-E-L-A-X.”
Cousins will not be on the hardwood when this upcoming season starts. It will take time for him and the Warriors to be a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor when he does come back.
As Windhorst pointed out, the Warriors would have loved to have used that $5.3 million on signing an unrestricted free agent like Trevor Ariza or someone like Avery Bradley. Players who can shoot the ball consistently from three-point range and who can defend some of the top wing players in “The Association.” 
Ariza agreed to a one-year deal for $15 million dollars to join the Phoenix Suns and Bradley agreed to a two-year, $25 million deal to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. 
So, the Warriors with those options off the table decided to take a flyer on Cousins and see if it will work. 
The one good thing that the Warriors have on their side is time because of their recent history of being able to play into June and if the rest of the league is sick and tired of seeing that happen, they should step up their play and competitiveness, and accept the challenge of taking down the back-to-back champions. 
Otherwise do as Windhorst said, “Let’s just give him time. Let’s just give him space and not freak the freak out.”  
“I want ‘Boogie’ to be good. I want him to enjoy this season. I want everything to work out, but I really just want to temper the concept that the NBA was ruined by the fact that ‘Boogie’ became a Warrior.”
This is way life works sometimes. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. When no one wants to give you an opportunity to show what you can do; to redeem yourself from past transgressions or to show your naysayers that you still have what it takes to be great that is the opportunity DeMarcus Cousins’ agent got him with the Warriors. This can go really smoothly or it can backfire. Either way it will be a topic that will be discussed analyzed and dissected with a fine-tooth comb for the rest of this off-season into the 208-19 NBA campaign. 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 7/3/18 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Byron Scott and Brian Windhorst; 7/3/18 www.espn.com story, “DeMarcus Cousins Says Conversations with Warriors Sealed Decision to Join,” by Adrian Wojnarowski; www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/23921959/nba-free-agency-every-new-deal-contract-and-extension; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcus_Cousins.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

J-Speaks: The NBA Honors "The Big O" and "Dik" in L.A.


One week from this past Monday, the National Basketball Association hosted its 2nd Annual Live Award Show, presented by Kia from the Barker Hangar in Los Angeles, CA. Houston Rockets perennial All-Star James Harden as expected on the Kia Most Valuable Player (MVP). Philadelphia 76ers lead guard Ben Simmons took home Kia NBA Rookie of the Year. Los Angeles Clippers high scoring reserve Lou Williams was awarded Kia Sixth Man of the Year for the second time in his career. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert won Kia Defensive Player of the Year. Starting guard Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers won the Kia Most Improved Player award and former Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, now the head man on the sidelines of the Detroit Pistons took home NBA Coach of the Year. While the stars of the present earned some well-deserved hardware, the NBA also took some time to honor two legends that help make the game better for the current NBA labor force and showed the kind of impact they can have on the fans that take their time to watch them on the hardwood. 
The winner of the second annual Sager Strong Award, named in honor of the late iconic Turner Sports sideline reporter and one-time Turner Sports studio host Craig Sager went to Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, which he was presented by Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT color analyst Reggie Miller, Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joel Embiid, from Yaounde, Cameroon and actress from HBO’s “Insecure” and native of Port Harcourt, Rivers State Nigeria Yvonne Orji. 
The award, which was won last year by then Oklahoma City Thunder and former New Orleans Pelicans, then Hornets head coach Monty Williams is presented to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion, and grace. 
The recipient is bestowed a suit jacket that is full of color, a replica that Mr. Sager wore during his memorable, “Time is simply how you live your life” speech during the ESPYS in the summer of 2016. 
“I want to express a heartfelt appreciation to the NBA and TNT, and especially to Mrs. Stacey Sager, whose the president of the Sager Foundation for this recognition,” Mutombo, who celebrated his 52nd Birthday that Monday night. 
“I remember being interviewed by Craig at the very beginning of my NBA career and I’m so glad to be able to wear this unique jacket which celebrates his memory and which will be giving me a great opening to explain to curious people the source of my fashion attire.”
On that same night, Hall of Famer and one true game changer Oscar Robertson received the second annual Lifetime Achievement Award. 
“I’m honored to receive the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award,” Mr. Robertson said in his acceptance speech. “Over the years there’s so many positive things and opportunities that have happened to me in my lifetime.” 
“Much of who I am today was shaped by basketball. My story is much more than just basketball.”
On the court, Mutombo, whose full name is Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Jean-Jacques Wamutombo for 18 seasons with the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets played was one of the respected players in “The Association” for what he did on the defensive end as a shot blocker and rebounder. 
While the No. 4 overall pick in the 1991 draft out of Georgetown, who was selected to eight All-Star Games; was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year recipient; is second all-time in blocks shots with 3,256; a three-time All-NBA selection; and six-time NBA All-Defensive selection, Mutombo became well known for his humanitarian work all around the globe. 
His signature move on the court after blocked a shot was he would waive his right index finger in the direction of the opposition. 
“Dikembe has done this for a lot of years in the game of basketball,” Mutombo’s former Hoya teammate and NBA Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning, who played 16 seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and New Jersey Nets said of his finger wag. “But this really means one man can change the world. He is our global ambassador.”
Former Hawks teammate and current NBATV and NBA on TNT studio and game color analyst Steve Smith expressed those same feeling saying of Mutombo’s finger wag, “To me it symbolizes this one individual has really touched so many lives.”
Two decades back, he created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, where its mission was to improve the health, education, and the quality of life of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his homeland. 
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the DMF was the opening of the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in 2007 in his war-torn homeland. 
The plans to open this $29 million, 300-bed hospital on the outskirts of his hometown Kinshasa, the Congolese capital began a decade ago. 
While ground broke in 2001, it took until 2004 for construction to begin because Mutombo had problems getting donations in the early stages despite personally donating $3.5 million towards the construction of the facility. 
The other issue was Mutombo nearly lost the land to the government because it was not being used and the refugees who began getting paid to farm the land had to leave. On top of that, he had struggled to reassure some of the people there was no ulterior or political motive for the project.
The final donation for the hospital came personally from Mutombo of $15 million and the ceremonial opening came in Sept. 2, 2006 and the name of the hospital as mentioned earlier Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital was in honor of his late mother, who passed away 21 years ago because of a stroke. 
When the facility opened 11 years ago, it was the first modern medical to be built in the area f Kinshasa in nearly four decades. The hospital is on a 12-acre site on the outskirts of Kinshasa in Masina which is home to about a quarter of the 7.5 million residents that live in poverty. The hospital is minutes away from the airport and close to a busy open-air market. 
“We are the top hospital in the DRC,” Dr. Alex Mutombo said. “We have saved thousands and thousands of lives.” 
“What he’s doing for us, it’s more than a miracle. We are all part of him. He’s the son of Congo.”
How big has this hospital been to this land, Kanu Thomas Mbimbi, another hospital employee and father said, “Without the hospital’s care my children would have died. The lord sent Mutombo to save my children.” 
Along with building the hospital in his homeland, Mutombo serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. It is a museum dedicated to the United States Constitution. 
In 2011, Mutombo traveled to South Sudan as part of SportsUnited Sports Envoy for the United States Department of State, where he worked with former Dallas Maverick, Los Angeles Laker, Seattle Supersonic and Indiana Pacer Sam Perkins leading a series of basketball clinics and exercises that emphasized team-building with 50 youth and 36 coaches. 
This opportunity represented a contribution to the State Department’s mission of removing barriers and create a world in which individuals with disabilities enjoy dignity and full inclusion in society. 
Speaking of being able to enjoy full inclusion in something, that is something Oscar Robertson, the 2018 Lifetime Achievement recipient did many years ago. 
On the court, Mr. Robertson produced the kind of career resume that most players could only dream of. He won Rookie of the Year in 1961. Was a 12-time All-Star selection, winning the game MVP three times. Won league MVP in 1964; was a 11-time All-NBA selection, and along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Milwaukee Bucks to their only NBA title in 1971. 
“There was nothing he couldn’t do.” Abdul-Jabbar who along with Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley presented Robertson with his award said. “It was like having a coach on the court.” 
What Mr. Robertson is known for most though was the fact that he was an all-around player. He is the all-time leader with 181 career triple-doubles and prior to the 2016-17 NBA season was the only player to average a triple-double for an entire NBA season, which he did in the 1961-62 campaign while with the then Cincinnati Royals of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists that season.  
The last two seasons, perennial All-Star himself Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple-double, the first in NBA history to do that and in the 2016-17 season Mr. Robertson’s single-season triple-double record of 41 by one with 42 games of double figures in points, rebounds, and assists. 
To put that feet into context, in the 1960-61 season, Mr. Robertson’s rookie year nearly averaged a triple-double with 30.5 points, 10.1 boards and a league leading 9.7 assists. 
“I’m not even close to the things Oscar was able to do the things Oscar was able to do,” Westbrook, the 2017 league MVP said. 
The work Mr. Robertson put in is something he did not pay much attention, but some of the greats of the game looked at what he did and have nothing but the ultimate respect for him as a player and even more so as a person. 
“His contribution to the game I don’t think will ever be fully appreciated,” Hall of Famer, Laker legend and “the logo” Jerry West, who played with him on the 1960 Olympic Gold Medal team said. “Incredible competitor. He dominated the game like few we’ve seen.To play with him in the Olympic Games was a thrill of a lifetime.”
“Oscar was the man,” Hall of Famer, five-time NBA champion Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who is second all-time with Robertson with 138 career triple-doubles said. “A triple-double threat every single night. 
While his on the court accolades are undeniable, the Crispus Attucks High School Alum of Indianapolis, IN is most remembered for what he did as the head of the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA), a job which put him right square in opposition with the league office on many occasions. 
One of the most historical confrontations took place in 1964 when Mr. Robertson was part of a group of players who threatened to boycott that year’s All-Star Game if they did not start receiving important things like better medical treatment, benefits, pay for preseason games. 
The league called the player’s bluff, but the players gave no ground and refused to come onto the hardwood causing a delay before the NBA finally caved. 
Then there was the famed 1970 case of Robertson versus the National Basketball Association, which was an anti-trust suit filed by the NBPA against the league. 
This was the case that paved the way for free agency as we come to know it today, where not only the players are being paid high salaries, but are able to terminate, or the politically correct term opt out of the final year of there deal at that moment if that is negotiated into their deal. 
Robertson himself stated that clubs basically owned their players and were forbidden to even communicate with other teams once their contracts were up because free agency was non-existent.
“It’s very important because what we have now is not quite adequate,” Mr. Robertson said back then of the conditions the NBA players had. 
The actual lawsuit though was structured to put a barrier of the merger between the NBA and American Basketball Association (ABA), which it did for six years. 
The NBA office did everything possible to go around Robertson to make this merger happen, which included attempting to lobby through the U.S. Congress.
All those attempts, including that one failed and the NBA was forced to come to a settlement, which became to be known as the Oscar Robertson Rule. The rule allows players of today to have some say in their own lives and careers. 
“He was extraordinarily passionate about making sure that the players are going to be treated fairly,” Jim Quinn, the lawyer in the case said. 
When the case was settled in 1976, the two leagues merged and the college draft, which is today called the NBA Draft as well as free agency clauses were reformed in not just the NBA but all other sports. 
“Oscar Robertson changed the face of the NBA,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of that landmark victory. 
The Bakersfield Californian said of the case won by Mr. Robertson, “Basketball, players gained dignity.” 
“Winning that battle was every bit as rewarding to me as anything I ever achieved on the basketball court and I’m most proud of that assists,” Robertson said that Monday night.
Even with this amazing triumph, Mr. Robertson says that after the lawsuit, he was blackballed. Unlike Hall of Famer Bill Russell, Robertson was never hired as a head coach or never worked in the front office of any NBA team. 
Even with that, Mr. Robertson said to ESPN’s host of “NBA: The Jump’s” Rachel Nichols last year he is very happy that players like Kevin Durant can pick and chose where they can go to continue their professional basketball journeys like he did two seasons back joining the Golden State Warriors. 
“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s great,” he said to Nichols about Durant, who since joining the Warriors in the summer of 2016 has led them to two straight titles and has won back-to-back Finals MVPs along the way. 
“Where else could he go. The [Brooklyn] Nets, Orlando [Magic]. No, he had to go where players would compliment what he did.” 
“I’m happy that he went there to be honest because he’s taking advantage of his contract. Even when LeBron [James] went down to Miami, everybody was so upset. Why were they upset because he didn’t have a contract? Why did they sign him to a life-term contract before he did that?” 
When asked by Nichols why fans become outraged and angry when players leave within the rules, Mr. Robertson said that some fans think players do not have that much intelligence. That basketball players to them are like being in a coliseum where front offices are the only ones that can move you from team-to-team. 
Mr. Robertson said that when free agency came about that it was going to ruin the game of professional basketball. 
As we have seen that has not been the case. It has actually made the NBA game better and the best example of this was in May 2014 following the scandal of former owner Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers were purchased for $2 billion by former Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft Steve Ballmer. 
This came about when four-time league MVP LeBron James spoke up during a postgame presser after a playoff game stating that the harsh and disrespectful words of Mr. Sterling in a recorded conversation in Sept. 2013 with V.Stiviano, born Maria Vanessa Perez released by TMZ Sports had no place in the NBA. 
NBA greats like former Phoenix Sun Kevin Johnson, Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who Stiviano took a picture with and posted on her Instagram that started all of this, Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and soon to be Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant also condemned Mr. Sterling’s remarks and on Apr. 29, 2013, Commissioner Silver in a 2 p.m. press conference announced that Mr. Sterling was banned for life from the league and fined $2.5 million dollars, which was the maximum fined allowed by the NBA constitution. 
“Their trailblazers because they broke all the racial barriers. Did all the heavy lifting,” Barkley, who played for the 76ers, Suns and Rockets in his 17-year career said of what Mr. Robertson, Bill Walton, Chester “Chet” Walker and all the other former players did for him and the players of today. “The reason guys are able to be free agents. If it wasn’t for those guys I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The pride of Leeds, AL also said about what the game of basketball and the impact Mr. Robertson had on him, “I’m 55 years old. I’ve never had a real job. I am so lucky and blessed, but it’s because of those guys doing all the heavy lifting and every time I see those guys I make sure they know I appreciate what they did for me and all of us. There the reason we got this show.”
With all those happenings, along with the fact that a player like James in the early stages of this off-season took his talents to the “City of Angels” and agreed to a four-year, $154 million deal to join the Los Angeles Lakers at the start of this week. 
As Mr. Robertson told Nichols about the state of the NBA, “I think it’s doing very well. I think the people love. It’s a good TV game. So, what else matters.” 
Commissioner Silver echoed those same thoughts when he said, “Because of Oscar Robertson, players earned the right to become free agents.”
Quinn also pointed out that the players starting back then were not only treaded with much more dignity, but their pensions were improved and received more benefits. 
Last week, the second annual NBA Awards took place to celebrate and honors some of the best in the sport with the 2018 league MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Players of the, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year, presented by Kia Motors. This was also a night where “The Association” took time to honor two great men who have had a major impact on the players of see today both on and off the hardwood. 
They honored a player that Miller pointed did not finish the first game he ever played because he went to the hospital to get 20 stitches in his chin after going for a rebound. That player was Dikembe Mutombo and he shook off that moment where he did like basketball that much became a Hall of Famer, who was one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in NBA history and built a hospital that provides medical care in one of the most difficult circumstances that exists in the world.
He also showed how a great education which he got at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and playing for a Hall of Fame head coach John Thompson, Jr. can do. While he never reached his original goal of becoming a doctor, he build a place that consists of many doctors in all fields that help people get well. 
“Things were important to him that extended pass athletics,” Thompson said. 
Fellow Hoya and NBA Hall of Famer of the New York Knicks, Seattle Supersonics and Orlando Magic Patrick Ewing and current basketball head coach at Georgetown echoed that sentiment by saying, “Giving back to the community. Giving back to the world was his next love.” 
That love had an impact on many in the Congo including a couple of current NBA players from the Congo like Toronto Raptors forward/center Serge Ibaka and the previously mentioned Embiid.
“When I found out he built a hospital, I couldn’t sleep because I was dreaming, like, wow. I want to be like him one day,” Ibaka, who began his career with the Thunder and also played a short time with the Orlando Magic said.
In the case of Mr. Robertson, the prior Monday night showed how gracious one can be when at one point they were at odds. The NBA office could have held a grudge against him forever, but by presenting him with the Lifetime Achievement Award displayed their gratitude and appreciation for how he changed the game for the better by having players have some say in what team they want to play for when their current contract concludes.
He took a courageous stand for the rights of NBA players of that time so the players of today can be their very best during and after their careers. 
Not only was Mr. Robertson honored during the ceremony, but extensively highlighting the times he fought and beat the league office in his quest for player rights and benefits. 
“He put a lot on the line for guys like myself and everyone whose playing today,” Johnson said. He also said poignantly, “It’s time for us to honor you now.”
Mr. Robertson was a man who earned his right to play as young child playing pickup games with his brothers in a dirt lot in Indianapolis, IN called the “Dust Bowl” against older kids and adults who as he said were bigger and much better. 
Those lessons he took with him from the “Dust Bowl” to leading the Crispus Attucks High Tigers basketball squad to back-to-back Indiana state titles to the University of Cincinnati, where he was a three-time College Player of the Year; time Consensus First-Team All-American; three-time NCAA Division I scoring leader and a three-time First-Team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection. He would then be drafted into the NBA and the rest is history.
Dikembe Mutombo through his philanthropic endeavors showed how one person can change a community no matter how big or small for the better and Oscar Robertson’s victory versus the league at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit at the Marshall Courthouse in New York, NY showed that one person with the right intentions can make the lives of others that come after them better. Player like Embiid, Oladipo, Westbrook, Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell, Boston Celtics All-Star center Al Horford
The National Basketball Association is in a great place and it is thanks to the likes of Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Jean-Jacques Wamutombo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Oscar Palmer from Indianapolis, IN. 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 6/22/18 NBA release on www.nba.com, “Dikembe Mutombo To Receive Craig Sager Strong Award;” 6/25/18 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Ramona Shelburne, and Jorge Sedano; 6/25/18 NBA Awards on TNT, presented by Kia Motors, hosted by Anthony Anderson, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal; 6/26/18 www.nba.com’s “2018 NBA Awards Complete List of Winner;” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dikembe_Mutombo; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Robertson; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robertson_v._National_Basketball_Association_Ass%27n; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Sterlin#Racist_remarks_and_lifetime_ban.

J-Speaks: LBJ Agrees To Take His Talents to L.A.


Since the close of the 2017-18 NBA campaign, which ended with the Golden State Warriors winning their second straight title and their third in the last four seasons is where would four-time league MVP and two-time Finals MVP LeBron James continue his basketball career? Would he stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers or would he take as he said eight years back to then ESPN take his talents elsewhere. We got an inkling of that when a private jet took him and his family to Los Angeles, CA over the weekend and just hours later in a very quiet way made the third big decision of his career. 
On Sunday, just 48 hours after opting out of the $35.6 million player option with the Cavaliers agreed to a four-year $153.3 million deal to take his talents to Hollywood and join the 16-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, with the fourth year of that deal according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst being a player option. 
James joins one of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA’s) most storied franchises and switches from the Eastern Conference which he has dominated in leading the Cavs to four straight NBA Finals appearances representing the Eastern Conference and eight straight overall Finals personally going back to his time with the Miami Heat starting in 2010. 
This marks the second time in the eventual Hall of Fame career of “King James” that he said goodbye to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted the teenage basketball prodigy out of Akron, OH 15 years ago and will have to be content with the fact that they won just one Larry O’Brien trophy in the 11 years he dawned the colors of the Wine and Gold.
In a recent post on his Instagram page, @kingjames, the NBA’s LBJ thanked Cavs’ nation for all the love and support in his second stint by saying, “Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible four seasons. This will always be home.” 
Unlike the prior two times James entered free agency, he made his choice of where he wanted to continue playing basketball quickly, making his decision less than 24 hours after NBA free agency opened and quietly with his management agency, Klutch Sports Group making the announcement with the Lakers in a simple and short press release. 
According to ESPN, James’ agent Rich Paul called Hall of Famer and Lakers President and five-time champion with the “Purple and Gold” Earvin “Magic” Johnson just minutes before he tweeted out his decision. 
Paul then called Cavs GM Koby Altman moments later to inform them of James decision that he was westbound.
It is in star contrast to 2010 when a very bad 30-minute television special to make his announcement to then ESPN’s Jim Gray about him departing from the Cavs to join the Miami Heat backfired and put a major dent to his reputation and led to a scathing letter being written by Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert to fans of the team that they will win a title before James. 
The difference between this departure and the first time LBJ left is that he leaves having delivered on his promise of bringing a title to “The Land,” which he did with the help of the game-winning three-pointer by now Celtics All-Star guard Kyrie Irving in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals at the Warriors, which also included a critical block of 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala’s fast break layup attempts late in the fourth quarter, in what many called the signature moment of the 2016 Finals. 
“LeBron, you came home and delivered the ultimate goal,” Gilbert said in a statement over the weekend. “Nothing but appreciation and gratitude for everything you put into every moment you spent in a Cavalier uniform. We look forward to the retirement of the famous #23 Cavs jersey one day down the line.” 
There will always be a portion of Cavaliers’ fans disappointed that James left for the second time and the fact that he did not give the Cavs a long-term commitment. 
Following a family vacation, James spoke to Altman before Paul did moments after free agency opened 48 hours ago, but that call was mainly out of courtesy than an opportunity for his now former team to make one final pitch to convince him to re-sign. 
James has no plans according to a story from NBA.com on making anymore comments about his move and there will be no welcoming press conference or celebration in L.A., a person very familiar with his plan said to “The Associated Press.” The next public appearance James plans to make is on July 30 in Akron when a public school started by his family foundation opens its doors. 
In just 24 hours after the start of free agency, the games biggest star is on his way to Hollywood to lead a young Laker team-run by a Hall of Famer and Laker legend and the former agent of one of the greatest Lakers of this generation in Rob Pelinka-which has not made the playoffs since 2013 and has been overmatched as it has tried to rebuild itself back into a playoff perennial let alone a title contender again. 
The addition of James instantly brings back credibility to an organization that is used to being at the top of NBA headlines. 
For James personally, he joins a conference that consists of his archnemesis in the Warriors, who swept him and now his former team the Cavaliers in this year’s NBA Finals and that he is still motivated and is very much in what he said in his final press conference after Game 4 loss versus the Warriors last month “championship mode.” 
To bring some perspective about the deal James just agreed to with the Lakers, he will become once the NBA’s moratorium period of free agency concludes in the coming days to sign the largest deal in total value in franchise history. 
That deal will also be the largest contract in terms of years that he signed since a six-year deal he signed when he joined the Heat eight years ago. 
James will also become the first player all-time to be the postseason leader in scoring, a 34.0 average in the 2018 postseason and switch teams the following season. Only Hall of Famer, six-time league MVP and 19-time All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 30.0 scoring average in the 1974-75 season was higher than the 27.5 points per game that James averaged this past season to debut for the Lakers to start the next season. 
What attracted James to the “City of Angels,” perhaps over Philadelphia and a couple of other places is the Lakers rich legacy and it was not along after his announcement to join the Lakers that five-time champion, 2009 and 2010 Finals MVP Kobe Bryant, who played all his 20 NBA seasons with the “Purple and Gold” reached out to him. 
“It’s a good day,” the ‘Black Mamba’ said to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on the afternoon edition of “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN. 
He added, “I had a gut feeling that he was leaning this direction but it’s always different when it’s actually final and executed and I was really happy for Rob. Rob’s my guy, man. So, I was extremely, extremely happy for him. Happy for ‘Magic.’ Extremely happy for Jeanie [Buss] and for us Laker fans everywhere, man. It’s a really, really big day.”
James and Bryant were Olympic teammates in 2008, leading the U.S.A. team to Gold that summer and have been perceived rivals. On Sunday, they became linked like never before and for a guy that is on his way to becoming a billionaire with his other business ventures in television and the worldwide web just to start with, there is no one better to learn how to be one of greatest entrepreneurs and social activist on the planet than Mr. Johnson, whose made a fortune investing in companies like Starbucks and Bryant, a recent Academy Award winner. 
Being in the most massive movie and television market in the world will also provide James, who owns two homes in Southern California a grander platform for as mentioned his philanthropic endeavors and social activism. 
Going back to his first job basketball, James made the decision to join the Lakers in large part because the Cavaliers roster was exposed during the 2018 Finals and he saw that it was very unlikely that it could improve enough to win a fourth title for him. 
In his last season with the Cavs, James gave the fans something to remember. He played in all 82 games for the first time in his career and by his sheer will guided a Cavs team that went through several transformations this season past the No. 5 Seeded Indiana Pacers in the opening round in seven games; swept the No. 1 Seeded Toronto Raptors 4-0; and defeated the gritty and youthful Boston Celtics 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals. 
Unfortunately, a major blunder by Cavs’ sharp shooter JR Smith in the final seconds of Game 1 cost the Cavs and they were swept 4-0, dropping James’ mark to 3-6 in The Finals-a record that is very often used when he is compared to the great Michael Jordan. 
With the Lakers now, James will be playing in the Western Conference for the first time and just down the Pacific Coast Highway from the back-to-back champion Warriors, who he will likely see four times during the regular season.
The team had hoped to land another big fish to join James like free agent swingman Paul George, who agreed to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 
There is hope that the Lakers can work out a deal to acquire All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard from the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs after a rough season where he played in just nine games and spoke out about seeking a trade out of the “Alamo City.” 
In the hours since James agreed to come to Hollywood, the Lakers have agreed to deals one-year deals, re-signing shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope worth $12 million; point guard Rajon Rondo at $9 million; shooting guard Lance Stephenson at $4.5 million and center JaVale McGee, who helped the previously mentioned Warriors to two straight titles at $2.4 million. 
The eye-opening signing of these four is Rondo because the Lakers have Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 overall pick in June 2017, who James told “Magic” Johnson that he liked Ball and that he’s excited to play with him. Ball is also regarded as a guy with a high basketball I.Q. 
If anything, the signing of Rondo means that the team is in win now mode, which is something James wanted and Ball has basically gone being the so-called “face-of-the-franchise” to having to compete with one of the most competitive players in the league. 
In the words of Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, “Talk about change from your rookie.” 
This could also be a major change for James because in his time with the Cavs, he thrived offensively when he had the floor spaced with knockdown shooters all over the hardwood, especially from three-point range. 
The upside with the additions of Stephenson and Rondo is they can handle the ball and initiate the offense, which is something James has done for the majority of his career. 
“They’re signing a bunch of guys to one-year deals. So, just because their Lakers here in July doesn’t mean they’re going to be Lakers in February, and just because this team that we’re looking at today doesn’t mean it’s going to be the team in October in fairness,” Brian Windhorst said on Monday’s edition of “NBA: The Jump.”  
“But once salary cap space is gone, it’s gone. You can’t get it back and so, it’s interesting to me that they’re making these moves in this order and we’ll see. They’re definitely how I would say three to four more moves to come here.”
On Sunday LeBron James for the second time in his career decided to leave the comfy confides of Ohio to take on the challenge of winning a championship in a city where it is the standard. He decided to go to a city to play for one of the most storied franchises in not just the NBA, but all of sports. In being a true historian of the game, James will be going to a place to where he has looked up to the rafters of the Staples Center and seen 16 banners and the retired jersey numbers of some of the best players to ever lace up their kicks for the “Purple and Gold” in Bryant, who has his No. 8 and No. 24 in the rafters, “Magic” Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, the NBA logo, his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, James Worthy, and many others. 
While James will have all the pressure in the world to deliver a title to Los Angeles and the supposed ghost of the legends to live up to, he will also have a plethora of resources in these individuals to go to for advice on basketball and whatever he needs to get answers for. 
Bryant especially wants to be that former Laker if James needs something he wants to lend that helping hand because as one of the most competitive players to ever play, he wants to see the Lakers win more titles.
“He’s part of the family, and so like whatever he needs I got him,” Bryant said to Nichols. “When I came here, ‘Magic’ did the same thing for me. Kareem did the same thing for me and all these other guys.” 
“It’s part of a community now and so, whatever he needs on my end I’m there for him, and his family and it’s all love. I’m really, really excited.”
He added, “I want to see us do better… We want to see this organization continue to grow and win more championships and have more parades. That’s really important. These last few years have been really, really tough. So, I can’t wait.”
For five straight seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers have missed the postseason, the longest drought in franchise history, going back to their days as the Minneapolis Lakers. The edition of James has brought something that the Lakers have not given their fans in recent years, hope. The hope that they will be back in the conversation of being a playoff perennial again. The hope that they will become an eventual championship contender and eventual earn their 17th NBA title and maybe more. Those are the expectations that come with James becoming a Laker and the expectations that the likes of Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and incoming rookies Moritz Wagner and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk will be seeing first hand and embracing, if they are still with the team at the end of this upcoming season. 
“For him it’s just business as usual. Come to work and work hard every single day,” Bryant said to Nichols. “I’m real excited for our young players because they get a chance to watch him work up close. I think that speeds up their learning curve because its one thing to be told this is what you need to do. It’s another thing to see a guy actually do it and now you can follow that lead.” 
“I think it’s important for Bron to just be himself and continue to do what he’s been doing.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 7/1/18 www.nba.com story “LeBron James Agrees to Four-Year, $154-Million Contract with Los Angeles Lakers;” 7/1/18 10 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “Free Agent Fever,” with Casey Stern, David Griffin, David Aldridge, Billy King, Sekou Smith, Mike Fratello and Charles Barkley; 7/2/18 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” presented by Kia on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Brian Windhorst, Ramona Shelburne and Paul Pierce; www.espn.com/nba/statistics; https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/a/abdulka01/html; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Los_Angeles_Lakers_seasons.