LeBron James Signs With the Lakers

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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

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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.