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Lakers move on from Mike Brown

Is anyone surprised that the Los Angeles Lakers fired Mike Brown? Bill Simmons had a pretty funny take on the situation.

This Week 10 picks column is dedicated to the immortal Mike Brown, the only person who ever figured out a way to stop LeBron James and someone on whom I was counting to screw up the 2012-13 Lakers season. If you noticed, I rarely if ever made Mike Brown jokes in columns or podcasts or even on TV — I was hoping he’d hang around for years and years and years, almost like the coaching version of an STD. Mike Brown was the kind of guy who shrugged off halftime adjustments and thought it would be smart to have Steve Nash run the Princeton offense — which is something you run when you have future lawyers and doctors running your team, not someone who’s one of the smartest offensive point guards of all time. The Mike Brown era was like planting my own personal mole into every Lakers season. As an avowed Laker hater, this is a tough day. I’m not gonna lie.

R.I.P., the Mike Brown Lakers era. May we reach those same beautiful heights again someday soon. And on that note, let’s bounce back with some Week 10 NFL winners.

I’m sure many Cavs fans can appreciate this.

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Bill Simmons puts Anderson Varejao on his NBA All-Star Team

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Anderson Varejao. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Anderson Varejao was snubbed for the NBA All-Star Team this year despite his impressive season, but Bill Simmons argues that Varejao would be a starter on his team.

As for that fifth spot: I love the way Varejao is playing this season … and if you enjoy guys who put up 11 points and 12 rebounds every night, grab every big rebound in traffic, take monster charges again and again and shut down opposing big guys, you should, too. Isn’t the whole point of the All-Star Game to pick players who are playing as well as they can possibly play? I never watch Chris Bosh and say, “Whoa, Chris Bosh! He’s something! He’s really turned it on!” Why do I have to pick Bosh as a starter again? And also, why should THREE Miami Heat players be starting on the All-Star team? You don’t find this a little kooky? Are they the ’96 Bulls or something? Please. Besides, Varejao has been more of an impact player this year — he’s the best at what he does, and that’s saying something. You win with what he does.

Varejao is fourth in the league in rebounding.

Yet if you follow Cavs fans on Twitter, there’s still a vocal group who argues that Varejao is overrated. I remember one guy saying that Samardo Samuels and Ryan Hollins were better players.

The aftermath . . .


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Last night we “witnessed” one of the worst performance’s of LeBron’s career in Cleveland, and the entire team wilted in the face of the onslaught from the aggressive and disciplined Boston Celtics. I was there, and it was painful to watch.

Naturally, we’re hearing all sorts of reactions today. It’s hard to argue with any of them, as last night’s performance makes no sense following the incredible performance in Game 3. That said, there are several possibilities to consider.

-LeBron’s elbow. This is as good a reason as any. Maybe it hurt him again, and maybe that frustrated him when he couldn’t make any jump shots. The team responded by folding as LeBron folded.

-LeBron’s Killer Instinct. Maybe he just doesn’t have it, or he just can’t summon it consistently. Michael Jordan was a jerk, and he doesn’t have a gracious bone in his body, but he was a winner. It’s impossible to imagine him ever putting on a lackluster performance in the pivital game of a tough series when he’s looking for his first championship. He could have a bad game like anyone, but not in a way where people were questioning whether he wanted to be there.

-Something else. Who the hell knows what it could be, but perhaps something else was bothering LeBron, and he couldn’t find a way to shake the funk he found himself in.

With that backdrop, we also have the issue of Mike Brown. In one sense, you can’t blame any coach if the superstar player shows up and acts like he’d rather be somewhere else in a Game 5 situation. On the other hand, it’s clear Mike Brown isn’t maximizing LeBron’s performances, or the team’s performances, during the playoff run.

There have been all sorts of reactions. Terry Pluto has written an open letter to LeBron, telling him it’s time to show what he’s made of. James made some strange comments following the game, and Pluto calls him out.

After Game 5, you strangely said: “I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have a bad game here or there, you’ve had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it’s easy to point that out. So you got to be better.”

LeBron, it’s not just about a “bad game” or three. It’s not about people picking on you, or not appreciating what you’ve done for the franchise. Most fans are still putting the primary blame on coach Mike Brown and the other players for the Cavs being down 3-2 in this best-of-seven series.

The “I spoil a lot of people with my play,” sounds as if you’re feeling sorry for yourself. It’s time to realize that more is expected of you because so much more has been given to you — be it in terms of pure physical blessings, or an owner willing to try and outspend the government to stimulate a championship in Cleveland.

Study the tapes of the last four games of the Boston series. Imagine you are watching Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan or any other franchise player wearing your No. 23. What would you say about their approach to those games?

Brian Windhorst explains that Mike Brown has had real problems dealing with the rotation now that Shaq is back, and the players are starting to grumble about it. But, the real problem is LeBron James and the strange way he’s approaching things.

Beyond Brown, however, there are other responsibilities. It lies with the captains and that means LeBron James. While he will be the first to tell you that he’s a leader and you can see that his teammates are fully invested in that situation, he has not seemed to act like one during much during this series.

First off, he’s undermined his coach by acting lax after losses when Brown has been sounding alarm bells. It is James’ personality not to be too worried about anything and it was not expected that he’d be throwing people into lockers and such. But his “we’ll get ‘em next game” philosophy has clearly backfired. With the exception of Game 3, despite all the handshakes and nonsense, the Cavs have been knocked on their heels in every game.

It has further become problematic that James has been disengaged during the games. Not only has he fallen into the trap of “letting the game come to him,” but he’s been increasingly distant. In huddles he’s looking at the ceiling or into the distance. It is not the James anyone on the team knows and his teammates and coaches have seen it. More problematic, they can’t explain it and that is making the entire locker room uneasy.

On Tuesday it was Zydrunas Ilgauskas and O’Neal that actually were more proactive. They were showing more leadership than James both on the floor and off the floor.

Windhorst elaborates further in his podcast, discussing how LeBron can be very moody at times, and how that’s creating real problems as many in the locker room have no idea what the problem is. He really calls out LeBron James and makes the charge that LeBron has not been mentally tough in this postseason. It’s a tough charge, but it’s spot on.

Naturally, many are focusing on how this may have been his last game in Cleveland. There will be plenty of time to discuss that after the season ends, and at that point we’ll find out if there’s any character in LeBron to go along with his incredible talent. There’s no use trying to interpret his actions now, as he’s a two-time MVP struggling in the playoffs, and he’s saying strange things.

James kept to himself in the locker room, momentarily popping out of the back room to drop his iPad on the empty chair in front of the spare locker next to his own, a “How ya doing?” being returned with an unexpected “Great.”

Great?

On this night, James was as far from great as he has been at any major moment of his career. The odd thing was, he didn’t seem overly distressed or disturbed by the predicament he and his team now find themselves in.

It was all kind of just too weird.

Leave it to Bill Simmons for some of the most dramatic analysis following the game.

Assuming the Celtics clinch the series on Thursday in Boston — a game in which LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have more pressure on them than any team in the history of the second round, and also a game that could determine how the next 12 years of NBA titles unfold and possibly assassinate professional basketball in Cleveland — we could end up remembering Game 5 as LeBron’s Last Cleveland Home Game Ever, One Of The Best Five Nights In Knicks History and/or The Game We Realized That LeBron Was Really The Next Karl Malone. So what happened? How did things fall apart completely, totally and (possibly) irrevocably in less than two hours?

The Karl Malone reference is classic Simmons.

Then he gives is a little perspective.

Of course, because of the stakes — you know, the future of a Cleveland dynasty hanging in the balance and all — it felt like one of the weightiest “Awful Big Games” by a great player in NBA history: 3-for-14 shooting, 0-4 on 3s, little urgency and a Mailman-like Botox game face (and he was at home!). He was perplexingly and memorably awful. As I tweeted, the “Kobe is better than LeBron” demo reacted to the game like Don Shula’s house after the Tyree Catch. It’s the trump card they desperately needed — they can always throw Game 5 in any LeBron defender’s face. Just remember, Kobe has laid more than a few big game eggs as well (see sidebar to the right). It happens.

Then he addresses the fans.

You just witnessed, quite possibly, the most damaging two minutes of the LeBron Era in Cleveland: Boston grabbed control and got Rondo going; LeBron’s shooting touch officially abandoned him; and the Cleveland fans turned on their team. Look, I’m all for booing your boys when the game has been decided — at some point, you have to let them know, “What just happened was NOT acceptable.” But doing it that early only makes the home team more skittish/nervous/urgent than they already were; it’s not like they’re thinking, “Crap, we thought we could get away without trying! They’re onto us! We gotta pick it up!” Booing makes everything worse. There’s no upside.

And yet, I can’t totally blame those fans because there was so much at stake; it transcended the game, the series and the season. Like, you could see yourself looking at LeBron in a Knicks jersey six months from now and saying, “I remember the moment I knew this would happen: Game 5, Boston-Cleveland, third quarter.” Every Cavs fan in that building probably had that creepy, stomach-turning vision and thought to themselves, “COME ON! WE CANNOT LET THIS HAPPEN!!!!!!!” “(The ominous sight of LeBron’s buddy John Calipari sitting courtside probably wasn’t helping, especially when he’s rumored to be the next coach of a Bulls team that has summer cap space.) Throw in their coach’s abominable performance, LeBron’s no-show, and Boston gaining steam by the play, and what do you do? I don’t know. Cleveland chose to boo. Lustily. I can’t kill them on it … just pointing out that it didn’t help.

There’s really no point in analyzing this. The game spun out of control, the defense kept breaking down, so many in the crowd got frustrated and started booing. That’s it. If this frustrates LeBron and has any impact on his future decisions about staying, then he’s a big baby. I don’t think that’s the case. The Cavs stunk up the joint, and some fans booed. Big deal.

I’m not really looking forward to Game 6, but we also know this series can turn on a dime if LeBron James gets inspired again and turns in another classic performance like he did in Game 3. Until then, I’m putting aside all the talk about his future. The future is now, and let’s see how LeBron and his teammates respond.

Bill Simmons on Cavs fans after Game 1

Another cool take.

Q: Didn’t you mention previously that Cleveland’s crowd is in full “LeBron might leave in two years mode so let’s go crazy” mode or something like that? Based on Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals (which is the first I’ve seen of Cleveland in the playoffs), Dwight Howard has more heart than their fans. I cannot believe how dead they were.
–Charles, Clifton, N.J.

SG: You can’t totally blame them, for one reason — that was the first time all season when the Cleveland fans truly sensed the stakes and realized that (A) they weren’t cakewalking to the title and (B) they’re still Cleveland, the city that hasn’t won a title since 1964 and has experienced a variety of Stomach Punch moments — so that window of doubt opened up and everyone fell right through it. They got tight and so did the players. But what happened was a necessary part of the process: Sometimes you need those “OK, this ain’t gonna be easy” moments to get over the hump. The best thing that ever happened to the ’90-91 Bulls was losing Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The best thing that ever happened to the 1999-2000 Lakers was nearly blowing Game 7 of the Portland series. The best thing that ever happened to the ’07-08 Celtics was Game 7 of the Cleveland series, when the Cavs wouldn’t go away. You don’t know what kind of team you have (and what kind of fans you have) until someone socks you in the mouth at home. How you respond to that moment defines the team you become.

Now, if some 2003 Cubs karma surfaced there — namely, the “Oh God, it’s happening again, we’re screwed!” factor — then that’s a whole other story. But the Cavs fans have been terrific all season; I think they just got nervous and froze. You know what’s not helping them? Their loser game coordinator, who played “In The Air Tonight” coming out of the timeout with 14.5 seconds left on the biggest possession of Game 1, then topped himself by unconscionably playing “Jump” by House of Pain right before the game-deciding jump ball with one second to play when the Cavs looked screwed. Nice discretion! The Cavs’ game coordinator might be the guy who fulfills my dream of seeing a team getting fans fired up by playing “The Shining” clip of Jack Nicholson swinging an ax into Scatman Crothers’ chest. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Simmons nails it. Cavs fans have been a little spoiled at home, so stunned silence shouldn’t be a surprise. Also, Cleveland fans are gun shy after all the disappointments, so that explains it as well. In any event, the place certainly lit up after LeBron’s shot last night!

Bill Simmons on Lebron and other Cavs players

John Paulsen from our national site, The Scores Report, dug up another great column from Bill Simmons where he discusses the “trade value” of 40 NBA players. His take on LeBron is awesome.

1. LeBron James
Last February, I wrote that he didn’t have a ceiling. This year? I figured out his ceiling. At least for right now. At age 24, he’s a cross between ABA Dr. J (unstoppable in the open court, breathtaking in traffic, has the rare ability to galvanize teammates and crowds with one “Wow” play, even handles himself as well off the court) and 1992 Scottie Pippen (the freaky athletic ability on both ends, especially when he’s cutting pass lines or flying in from the weak side for a block), with a little MJ (his overcompetitiveness and sense of The Moment), Magic (the unselfishness, which isn’t where I thought it would be back in 2003, but at least it’s in there a little) and Bo Jackson (how he can occasionally just overpower the other team in a way that doesn’t seem human) mixed in … only if all of that Molotov Superstar Cocktail was mixed together in Karl Malone’s body. This is crazy. This is insane. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And to think, LeBron doesn’t even have a reliable 20-footer or a post-up game yet. See, this is only going to get better. And it’s already historic.

As a Celtics fan, I shudder for the future. As an NBA fan, I am pinching myself.

Until next year.

Great stuff. He also has an interesting take on another Cavs player.

J.J. Hickson: My favorite under-the-radar rookie and a legitimate 2009 Playoff X Factor. If he played for the Lakers, L.A. fans would be comparing him to a young Karl Malone right now.

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