I've decided to make a few changes this season. Next week, I'll be launching a new version of my Friday column, and starting today I'll be answering mail (from columns, Facebook and Twitter) every Thursday in a segment I like to call Rescued From The Spam.
Let's begin with three questions about LeBron James and my prediction that he'll win a third straight MVP award this season while eventually reversing public opinion.
I tend to disagree that everyone will forget about what James did even if he is hugging the championship. While you pointed out the fact that Magic, Michael and Larry had other All-Star- or superstar-caliber teammates, the main difference is that those teams were of the same era. Therefore, Magic and his teams were competing against Larry and his team. Michael had to compete against the stacked teams of Utah and the Lakers as well. Even if the Heat win, there will be many people, pundits included, who will say the team was supposed to win considering it really is the only team right now with three players of that caliber. Winning is expected with that roster and anything less than a championship will be a disappointment every year.-- Aaron, Cleveland
I appreciate where you're coming from, Aaron, but I disagree with you when it comes to Jordan. His Bulls never had to face an extraordinary opponent while winning their six titles. Utah was a two-star team -- two terrific Hall of Famers for sure, but the depth of star power among Chicago's rivals throughout the 1990s doesn't run as deep as you'll find on the contenders of the '80s or even of the top teams today.
The Lakers, Celtics and Heat all have more high-level talent than any of the teams Jordan faced in the 1990s. Jordan's singular qualities helped obscure what was otherwise a weak era for NBA teams.
The point I'm making is that James went to -- or helped form -- a team in Miami that can compete against the Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, or the Celtics of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Shaquille O'Neal.
Right now, it's wrong for anyone to call Miami the outright favorite to win the championship. Look at the matchups and tell me where Miami holds an advantage against the Lakers other than at small forward. Never mind the impact James, Wade and Chris Bosh made last summer; I view Miami as the No. 2 or 3 contender in the league, depending on the outcome of its rivalry in the East against Boston (and don't forget Orlando).
I agree with your assessment that nothing less than a championship will be viewed as a disappointment for LeBron. But that was the standard he faced as soon as he entered the NBA, that he would go down as one of the biggest busts of all time if he failed to win a ring. No one has to tell him that he needs to win a title as soon as possible.
You're probably right that, with winning, all will be forgotten, but you are wrong when you state that LeBron has been "roughed up and humbled" for his crimes of arrogance. He continues to paint himself as the victim -- claiming he's making mental notes of all who have verbally thwarted him. His victim-ology persona doesn't equate to being humbled; rather, it just further exemplifies his narcissism, because he isn't capable of understanding why people react negatively to the manner in which he conducted his business. Again, it's not what he did, but how, and he'll never get it.-- Greg
There's no doubt he's been roughed up. James has faced more criticism in the last six months than he'd heard over his entire life. As for the narcissism, that's an entirely fair complaint for which James must answer. The fans turned out to be smarter than he gave them credit for; they saw through his act, they were offended and it backfired on him. The only way he can recover is by doing whatever is necessary for his team to win at the highest level. The bottom line is that I believe he's going to win championships eventually, and by winning he will convert the negatives into positives.
Is LeBron really the one responsible for ruining his image, or are Maverick Carter [his longtime friend and business partner] and LRMR responsible? From The Decision to comments about race being a factor in the media's coverage of LeBron, who's really making the King's decisions?-- Bryce, Canton, Ohio
It was bad idea to do the TV show, and a lot of people predicted it would backfire in a bad way (myself included). But the ultimate decision was made by James and he is responsible for it. He did it, he's living with it and that's how it should be.
He'd had such a long run of being lauded -- going back to his Sports Illustrated cover story as a high schooler -- that he (along with his advisers) was bound to push his celebrity too far. Who in his shoes wouldn't become arrogant? He had been pushing his fame for years, and no one had ever pushed back until last summer.
But now it becomes interesting: How does James react to this new critical environment? He's being challenged in an entirely new way, and now we'll begin to see who he really is.
After watching Kobe Bryant this preseason, are you really sure you can give him the edge over Dwyane Wade in a Finals matchup? He might be this year's Kevin Garnett in terms of health. The Lakers will push it to seven games, but Miami has too much athleticism and fresh legs like you said. Kobe will not be well rested, while LeBron and Wade will have never had more rest heading into the playoffs than at any other point in their entire careers!-- Andrew, Richmond, Calif.
Bryant is the heavyweight champion of the world, and Wade doesn't get to take over until he knocks him out. Remember how bad Kobe looked in the early games of the playoffs last season? He turned that around quickly.
If you were to ask Wade whether he should be given the advantage over Bryant in a playoff matchup, I'm sure his answer would be a vehement "no." That is a title he must earn, and no doubt he looks forward to the challenge.
Instead of disciplining with the current technical system (which, at one free throw, is virtually meaningless), why not make them worth two shots and the ball? Make them actually affect the errant team? Better yet, make it a personal foul, like in high school and the NCAA. Make it hurt to get one and maybe it will go down at least a little bit. Similarly, reduce the amount you can receive before a suspension.-- Brad, Kenosha, Wis.
Terrific idea, Brad. I ran this by a league officer and he said it's worthy of consideration -- that it would require a lot of investigation to consider all of the consequences, but it is a suggestion that shouldn't be dismissed. (I can't tell you how rare it is to hear that kind of response.)
The current system of adding up a player's technical fouls hasn't changed behavior because the players don't worry about the total until they're on the verge of suspension. What you're talking about would punish the player and his team instantly. The responsibility would revert to the player for putting his team in a bad position. If the league really wants to put a stop to the histrionics, this would be one way to do it.
You have me thinking that the NBA will consider a change along these lines following the anticipated lockout next season, when the league will need to do everything possible to create an earnest image and win back fans. Rasheed Wallace retired at the right time, I'm sure of that.