LeBron James Signs With the Lakers

931581868

As I craftily predicted, LeBron James will be taking his talents out west to Hollywood. The deal, as Woj pointed out, is a league max of 4 years and $154M. It was also interesting to note that some of LeBron’s reps were in Philly meeting with the 76ers, who were the other team that seemed most likely to land his services. He was not present at those meetings, though, and he was in fact in Los Angeles. Now he joins the storied Laker franchise that has the second most titles among all NBA franchises (trailing the Celtics, of course).

So what does this mean for the NBA? Well, first and foremost the Western Conference is now even more of a bloodbath than ever. You have, of course, the Warriors, who have won 3 out of the last 4 titles and were a blown 3-1 lead away from having won 4 in a row. You have the Houston Rockets who took the Warriors to the brink and are bringing back their future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul with a max deal (again, as I craftily predicted) as well as reigning MVP James Harden. You have the Thunder, sort of, who managed to convince Paul George to stay even though everyone and their mother thought he’d be joining LeBron in LA. And now you have the Lakers, who are mainly just LeBron James right now since he hasn’t really acquired any teammates yet. However LeBron has taken a worse supporting cast to the NBA Finals before so just because there isn’t a ton of talent around him now doesn’t mean that doesn’t make the Lakers contenders.

This also takes a mack truck and clears all the small children out of the road for the Celtics to reach their first NBA Finals since 2010 (which happened to be against the Lakers). There is virtually no competition for them. Yeah, the 76ers and Raptors are pretty good, but the Celtics curb stomped the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs last year while the Raptors got destroyed by the Cavaliers, whom the Celtics took to Game 7. And the Celtics did all that without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, who will both be healthy for the start of the 2018-19 season. The LeBron signing also opens the door for a potential LeBron James vs Kyrie Irving NBA Finals, which will just be a bonanza of storylines to work with.

So what do the Lakers need to do in order to unseat the Warriors? Well for one, they need another player. Since they traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance to the Cavaliers at the Trade Deadline (very sneaky play there, LeBron), the Lakers now have room for 2 max contracts in their salary cap. LeBron takes up one of them and they could use another one on one of the potential free agents still out there (DeMarcus Cousins) or pay Kawhi Leonard after acquiring him in a trade from the Spurs (or both, since Leonard has stated he doesn’t really care about the max contract, he just wants out of San Antonio). The development of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball is also critical, however the latter’s may take a little more time since he tore his meniscus and it is unknown how much time he’s going to miss. Provided, their development only matters as long as one or both of these two aren’t part of a package for Kawhi Leonard. However, since the Lakers have no other ammunition except the potential of Ingram and Ball, there really isn’t any other option for them if they want to land Leonard. I’m also interested to see how LeBron works with Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who was taken 31 spots after LeBron in the 2003 NBA Draft. Pretty much everywhere he’s been, LeBron has basically been the Jackie Moon of his organization and has been the alpha over his head coach. Walton doesn’t strike me as the pushover that Tyronn Lue does or David Blatt and Erik Spoelstra did so there could be some potential head butting.

But regardless, this coming NBA season will certainly be a lot more interesting than last season’s. That’s it for today’s blog, sorry about the brevity but I just came back from the beach and I am just dead, however I couldn’t NOT blog this news so I powered through it the best I could. Good on me. Let me know what you think of LeBron James joining the Lakers in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

What NBA Free Agency Can Teach Us about the International System & Political Signaling

970199002

By James Neary

The intersectionality of politics and sports is an ever-present fissure in the harsh divisions of America today. You can yell back and forth across the dinner table about why players should or should not kneel, wear black hoodies, or lambast the president. But you can’t argue this: sports ​are politics. Power dynamics, economics, and public relations are obvious driving forces behind both the Warriors and the White House. While this article largely focuses on the context of the NBA and the boisterous atmosphere surrounding free agency headed into this weekend, the concepts mentioned here will be largely applicable to other leagues as well. While to most political scholars the metaphor is apparent, the sports fan less versed in the traditions of Capitol Hill stands to gain a lot from this discussion.

Although the metaphor isn’t perfect, the NBA today can be seen as an international system similar to the one every human on earth calls their own, except for maybe Marxists. Political scholars usually refer to our syste​m as ​anarchy ,which you know the meaning of. Despite the UN and other international organizations’ best effort to instill some rule of law on a global level, realist theory in political science argues that doesn’t mean much. How the NBA functions similarly to this follows: Each team acting as a nation, or ‘black box,’ in which you can hardly see the inner policy, practices, and traditions of the institution itself, but are left instead with the resulting implications of the choices made through their internal processes. There are institutions such as the NBA itself, the NBPA, the television and internet service providers, etc. that do impose rules over combat (games), economics (salary caps), diplomacy (trades), and ethics (dress code). Politically, either from a realist or liberal (not like that, idiots) perspective, the argument can be made both that these institutions do and do not play a leading role in the decisions made by teams.

Now that the overall framework and political theory is established, it’s time to take a look at this year’s NBA free agency circus and see how it corresponds to our political conditions. To be completely forthcoming, I’m a diehard Celtics fan, but I also appreciate the unprecedented grandeur of (IMHO) the greatest player of ever, Lebron. In our metaphor, the games these teams play against each other are representative of actual battle between states. This can be thought of as either military or economic competition, as the former seems to be traded for the latter in recent politics. If you are going with the most basic metaphor, games as battles, then in that context Lebron is equal to the largest concentrated nuclear payload on Earth. Golden State has the most combined nukes, and maybe even the second largest single concentration in KD or Steph. Draymond is kind of like a predator missile: easy to deploy and very destructive, but can cause a lot of unwanted damage. Teams, just like states, are in a constant struggle with others to secure these assets and deploy them effectively on the battlefield to maximize their returns.

As stated above, the metaphor isn’t perfect, but it’s obvious the teams in the NBA (and the WNBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, LLWS… maybe not that last one) function according to a framework of power dynamics similar to that of our international system. What prompted this discussion, however, is the ​seemingly exaggerated media circus leading up to Lebron, Kawhi, and PG’s decision to stay or leave their respective teams this year. Sorry to burst the bubble, but I’m of the school of thought that this is not out of the ordinary in any way. It’s the very nature of our political institutions and their derivative economy to systematically bombard us with information every hour of the day, every day of the year. This might be a phenomenon that has developed recently, seeing as the most unrelenting place it manifests itself, in both the political and athletic arenas, is my push notifications. The logic stands though, the NBA or any other sports organization has nothing to gain in a quiet offseason. They lose money, they lose ratings, and they lose traction. Michelle Beadle and Mike Greenberg, on GetUp! On ESPN following the NBA awards, pointed out the balance of awkwardness for having the show so long after the regular season (when the votes were cast) and of politics for having so much invested in such an ambitious event. So there it is, whether through free agency, championship parades, fallings out between superstars, or fashion shows, the NBA will always give you as much to talk about in the offseason as it can.

 

That being said, what was about this offseason in particular that prompted such a discussion on the intersectionality of sports and politics? To be honest, I think the average basketball fan is becoming increasingly aware of this connection due to the rate at and ease with which we see these developments. What has been particularly noticeable this offseason is the amount of political signaling going on between teams and parties. Magic Johnson, proving to be a very skilled statesmen, has executed some of the better attempts at this so far. Signaling to fans his resolve, he recently committed to stepping down as President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers if he were unable to land some big free agents this offseason or next. Signaling resolve is often used by leaders during international combat, but can be utilized in economic and diplomatic relations as well. Perhaps most similar to Magic’s case in a relevant American context, Republican Senate Candidate for Missouri Austin Petersen challenged grassroots Republican primary adversary Tony Monetti to a high stakes unofficial ballot in which the loser would resign. Both candidates initially agreed, but Monetti backed out, signaling weak resolve to his voting base while Petersen signaled strong. US Rep Maxine Waters’ call for private discrimination against members of the Trump administration and Senator Chuck Schumer’s condemnation of her remarks are also signals of resolve relevant to their respective voting bases. Magic Johnson’s recent strategic move, however, is also indicative another political phenomenon we’ve seen play out on the international stage recently. What Magic did was essentially ‘draw a line in the sand,’ as President Obama did in 2012 with his denunciation of the Assad regime in Syria. What weight these red lines actually hold in practice however, is up for debate.

Besides just the words of Magic Johnson, there have been numerous occurrences of political signaling in recent days of the NBA offseason. Perhaps the most obnoxious form of signaling is coming from Lavar Ball. When looking at the dynamics of the Kawhi Leonard situation, Lavar’s endless media stunts, self-promotion, and cold takes make perfect sense. The Spurs, a franchise notorious for flying under the radar and giving the media as limited access as possible, see Lavar as significant cost to obtaining Lonzo from the Lakers. The fact that it’s the Spurs makes that cost significantly higher than it would be for any other team as well. Knowing that the Lakers will probably have to deal Zo or Kuzma to San Antonio to grab Kawhi, Lavar is making it exponentially more difficult for that deal to happen with his son. Therefore, Lavar is setting up Lonzo, a pass-first and lanky rebounding point guard, to play with two of the greatest two-way wings of all time. A pretty brilliant move in my opinion, and one that echos Israel’s attempts to leverage as much power as they possibly can to shift the international relation strategies of the United States more in their favor.

 

The metaphors and political connections in this scenario between the Lakers, Spurs, and Lebron do not stop there obviously. You have virtue signaling, like in that horrible poem that Lakers intern wrote for softy Paul George. Commitment signaling, like in how Kyrie was absent from the Celtics bench in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year. I think it could even be reasonably argued that Lonzo’s diss track to Kuzma was a signal to Lebron that he was willing to part ways with his good friend to make space for him. The Lakers, evidently thought this was poorly executed, as they reprimanded the two rising sophomores for their antics, thus signaling to Lebron their capabilities. Lebron has even engaged in this signaling himself, most probably by orchestrating leaks from his camp that he doesn’t want to hear any pitches, most absurdly by wearing a hat during the finals saying “There is no magic pill.” It seems that every year, every summer, there has developed this atmosphere of circus surrounding NBA free agency. I hope that I’ve established this atmosphere is far from unprecedented or unreasonable. Applying frameworks of political science, including organizations of international systems, political signaling, and power dynamics is useful for understanding the neverending onslaught of Joel Embiid’s tweets and Stephen A.’s rants involving the NBA.

What the Hell Do I Write About?

Hey everyone, sorry about there not being a blog post yesterday, but there is literally NOTHING happening right now in the world of sports. Hell, I’ve been so bored, I even started working out! Me! A blogger! Whoever heard of such a thing? I’m particularly fuming at Major League Baseball. Not at the league itself, but rather the inactivity from its clubs this offseason. How is it that we’ve already completed the first week of January and 7 members of my Top 10 Free Agents are still available? *Update* 6 out of 10 left. Jay Bruce just re-signed with the Mets. *End of Update* We almost had something interesting happen, as there were multiple tweets from very reputable sources that said that the Astros had struck a deal with the Pirates involving Gerrit Cole. However that proved to be fake news, leaving me in a pit of despair. Though it’s probably a good thing because could you imagine Cole being a part of the Astros? He’s an ace-level pitcher and he’d probably be the third man in that rotation after Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander.

851343992

But yeah, I’m scraping for topics to talk about right now. I COULD talk about the whole Ball family stuff, but I’d rather not contribute to that mess. The only reason LaVar Ball is making all of these claims is because the media is lending him its ear. Like I seriously think he’s going to get Lonzo hurt, especially now that he’s verbally come after Lakers head coach Luke Walton. If the media just ignored him, then maybe he’ll stop being a jackass. But we all know that’s not going to happen. We’re in too deep at this point. But I like to keep up my morals and not give him the time of day if I can help it.

901536678

I will admit I haven’t kept up on the world of basketball like I’ve hoped to, both college and professional. I admittedly don’t know as much about basketball as I do baseball and football and the lockout played a major role in that. I was on top of the world in following the NBA but once that happened I was really turned off and it stopped receiving my attention. Plus with college basketball, I’m finding it harder and harder each year to be invested due to the whole one-and-done thing. Basically every year I have to completely erase my brain on what I know and start fresh with each basketball season because there is so much turnover with the rosters. Plus my team, Indiana, is kind of garbage this season so that’s really hurt my interest level. They have shown some promise under new head coach Archie Miller, though. But it’s going to take some time before we’re ready to seriously compete for Big Ten championships again.

I thought about doing another personal blog for this one, but I really couldn’t think of any stories from my athletic career that would be particularly interesting. I’ve told all my favorites already and there really isn’t much left in my concussion-filled brain. If one pops up, I’ll definitely be sure to talk about it.

I’ve been getting into professional wrestling as of late. I used to watch WWE as a kid and play the video games, then took some time off because I was getting bored of it but now my interest has been reinvigorated. I’m debating whether or not I should do wrestling-themed blogs but I’m not 100% sure that would be best since it is staged and all. Which is fine by me, I look at it as watching an action/drama/comedy TV show, which is really what it is. It’s basically reality TV where people kick the crap out of each other. Let me put it this way: if you watch shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians or The Bachelor/ette, then you have no right to rip on WWE for being “fake.” Plus, try watching WWE with a buzz on. It’s freaking awesome. I actually took my brother and godson to the Clash of Champions Pay-Per-View in Boston last month and that was a Hell of a good time. Plus I was able to get an RKO from Randy Orton on film. So I guess I’ll leave it up to my readers as to whether or not I do WWE blogs. Definitely let me know if you’d like to read that. If I get no responses, I won’t do it, though.

838619492

What else, what else. I mean I’ve also considered delving into the pop culture scene from time to time. For example, I’ve always wanted to talk Game of Thrones and Star Wars on this thing but I’ve held back because it’s a sports blog. When I’m not watching sports, I’m usually keeping up on those. I considered doing a Game of Thrones blog where I talk about the differences between the book and show and how well I think each change is done (or poorly), which would take FOREVER. I did get started on it where I would go storyline by storyline and talk about what’s different and what’s the same. I got through Ned Stark’s, Tyrion Lannister’s, and Jon Snow’s storylines before I kind of gave up on it. I was well over 10,000 words and I doubt anybody outside of my parents would want to take the time to read all of what I had to say.

I also really wanted to talk about what I thought of Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi just because of how polarizing it’s been amongst the fanbase. But again, I held back because this is a sports blog. I guess I’ll say this in short: I thought it was very good, but I understand why people have problems with it. I think most of the risks they took were good ones, though there were a couple elements I didn’t care for. For example, SPOILER ALERT, I would’ve liked to have known a little more about Snoke before he was killed off. Now granted, I read the defense that when the Emperor was killed in Episode 6, we didn’t know shit about him except that he ruled the galaxy and he was extremely powerful with the force and had manipulated our lightsaber-wielding villain. That’s basically all we knew about Snoke as well. However the difference between Snoke and Palpatine is that we know about the time period leading between episodes 6 and 7 and Snoke was a character that just kind of popped up within that time frame. Where was he before Episode 7? Why hadn’t we seen him? Was he Darth Plagueis, Palpatine’s master whom he had supposedly killed? We really don’t know. But I think you could do some cool stuff with him now that he’s dead. I think a dark side force ghost could be in the cards here. Perhaps Snoke comes back to torment Kylo Ren and then maybe we can learn a little more about him. Or maybe he projected himself like Luke did when Kylo Ren split him in half. I’m not going to get totally pissed about it until I see Episode 9. My only other major beef was Rose saving Finn. That whole storyline felt like it belonged on the Clone Wars TV series, not in the main films, but I did see how it tied into the main story. I do liked that they tried to do something different with this storyline. It didn’t work for me this time around but I hope they keep trying to show us different sides of the galaxy. I really hope the negative responses to this part of the movie don’t deter them from doing different things. But I hated that Rose saved Finn from going kamikaze on that cannon. I think it would’ve been the perfect way to tie up his character arc: an ex-stormtrooper who has a history of running away from his problems saves the Resistance by not running from a giant cannon that’s going to blast open some doors. But then Rose saved him and gave a dumb little speech about “not killing the ones we hate, but saving the ones we love.” Yeah, okay, that’s great, but the minute you said that, that cannon blasted open the doors shielding the Resistance and the Resistance would’ve been totally screwed had Luke Skywalker not projected himself to fight Kylo Ren (which I thought was freaking awesome). I guess my one other beef was Leia flying through space. That was dumb but it wasn’t dumb enough that it hindered my viewing experience. For me, it was kinda like “oh she’s flying through space like Mary Poppins? That’s dumb. Next scene.” I think Star Wars fans can be real brats about their movies and it’s a real shame because I thought Rian Johnson made a very good film but because it’s got the Star Wars name attached to it, it gets criticism that’s often unfair. But I guess if I had to rank the Star Wars Movies, I would rank them: 5-4-7-8-Rogue One-6-3-1-2. And I’m only ranking Phantom Menace above Attack of the Clones because Phantom Menace had one redeeming quality: the Darth Maul fight. That was awesome. Attack of the Clones had no redeeming qualities.

So that’s going to do it for my rambling blog. Let me know if you want me to occasionally write about things outside the world of sports, especially if we’re in a dead period because I’d like to be able to post every day if I can help it. Give me your thoughts in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.