But first, LeBron James visits Akron and talks about Cleveland.
He Loves Them, He Loves Them Not: When LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach, for once the reigning MVP did not look back, or over his shoulder. He defied some of the NBA's toughest conventional wisdom, as Michael, Magic, and Larry rushed to remind him. James also risked being seen as a man who would destroy his hometown for a few pieces of silver.
Yet as dastardly and double-crossing as his free agency may have been, it most definitely was his. For once, James didn't act like he was watching the polls, consulting the superstar manual, or carrying around a focus group in his luggage. The story of LeBron James has been as much about his image as his successes and failures on the court.
So when James thanked his hometown of Akron in a newspaper ad, but excluded Cleveland, it was refreshing. Brutal and unfair, yes. But again, the game's best player once again dared to make an unpopular choice.
Was there a good reason for it? I can't call it. Cleveland and Akron are separate cities, each with its own history; closeness often leads to rivalry and ill will; all of James's charity work has been for Akron; and who knows how he's feeling about Cleveland these days. Or maybe it's just another case of faulty Horsemen PR, and I'm getting all excited over nothing.
Regardless, it didn't take long for that to get fixed, and for me to go right back to wondering if James has any internal compass.
When James showed up in Akron for his celebrated annual bike-a-thon (which reliably produces some of the summer's funniest wire images), he spoke. He spoke of Akron -- how much it means to him, how he will continue to give back to it, and then, just to be safe, he thanked Cleveland, his fans there, and anyone else in Northeast Ohio who wouldn't throttle him on sight. There was no mention of his former team.
It was too late to make any sort of sincere overture to the whole town. Nor did James have any responsibility to do so. So we get this half-assed, calculated, spin-conscious mention, tacked onto an Akron-centric statement that may have only been making matters worse. Maybe James felt like reaching out to those who weren't burning his jerseys.
Was it sincere? Who even knows any more. The delayed reaction, the lack of depth, the inability to give anything other than this most cynical impression ... it's become all too familiar.
It's gotten to the point where the only convincing public gesture James is capable of is the wrong one. Then again, if LeBron would just embrace, or accept, the fact that everyone hates him now, he might stop having to worry about right and wrong. Much has been made about the "free" part of James's free agency; maybe it's time he learned a personal lesson from the business example he's set. (B.S.)
Update on the Positional Revolution: Last week, Rob Mahoney of The Two-Man Game wrote a piece translating Drew Cannon's excellent research piece for Basketball Prospectus looking at positional nomenclature from a defensive perspective. Cannon noted how often what he considers college shooting guards (scorers), for instance, actually serve as the primary defender on opposing point guards. Mahoney applied this thinking to the Mavericks.
The Positional Revolution is well-tread theory; we'll refer you to a 2006 McSweeney's piece on the coming war and the relevant FreeDarko tag. What Cannon and Mahoney have done is attack the extant and unhelpful stock classification of players, a system limited and wrong in every way. Heaven knows we need new terminology to help describe players' roles and abilities; "power forward" means nothing after Dirk Nowitzki has been named an All-Star at that position nine straight times.
The problem with the way this new development is framed is that it still relies on demonstrably imprecise labels. If Rodrigue Beaubois is a "D1" -- meaning he guards point guards despite often playing shooting guard next to Jason Kidd or J.J. Barea -- then you're assuming there are "1s" for him to guard, which is just the type of assumption the Positional Revolution aims to destroy.
The point of a new nomenclature is to do a better job describing what players actually do, and do well. If "1s" no longer exist, in favor of the Cannon/Mahoney use of "scorer" or "creator" for offensive roles, what does a "D1" do? And is that by necessity (due to size or athleticism) or ability? Is calling Beaubois a "D1 Scorer" any different from calling him a "guard"? A more useful classification might be something like "DPick-and-RollA+" or "DPostC-".
Any new thinking on positionality is a plus for basketball fans, and the Mavericks are perhaps the best non-Heat test case right now. The problem is that the Mavericks are positionally weird due to an ad-hoc strategy of amassing talent that doesn't always fit needs. A weird team like the Thunder is apositional by design, to accommodate a singularly weird star. That's where the revolution thrives. (T.Z.)
Such a Nice Boy: It's going to be hard to write what I'm about to write without coming off as a total jerk. And, let the whole world know that I find Pau Gasol to be an amazing, exemplary athlete, and from what I can tell, a well-rounded human being. Furthermore, it is the NBA offseason, when in a typical year, nothing much happens.
Finally, 2010 has achieved that normalcy. But there's still debris to clean up after two months worth of bad publicity -- for both the league and, more recently, journalistic bedfellow ESPN. So here comes a 4,000-word feature on Gasol's interest in spinal surgery and willingness to help children.
Laudable qualities, both, even if for Gasol, "medical school" really was only a first year of undergrad. But this isn't even about Gasol. In fact, there's very little of Gasol in here, apart from his angelic nature and interest in medicine. It feels very much like a deliberate attempt to put a respectable face on the sport and this particular media outlet -- disingenuous in the same way as LeBron's Cleveland shout-out, even if it can hide behind a heart of gold. (B.S.)
KD's Secret Swagger: If they held championships for summertime PR, Kevin Durant would be a clear winner. He signed a max extension with Oklahoma City quietly just as LeBron fever was reaching its peak; when the media world subsequently lavished praise on KD for his exquisite humility, Durant said he didn't deserve that special attention and proved his personality was even more wholesome than everyone had thought.
How humble is Kevin Durant? He can even come off as modest on a rap record, that touchstone of athlete self-confidence. Here he is in an interlude on D.C.-based rapper Wale's new mixtape More About Nothing. (A few NSFW words in there.)
The producer, DJ Omega, is practically begging Durant to pound his chest a little, but KD holds off ... for a while. Eventually he lists off his resumé, said with supreme but controlled swagger. It's just like KD's game: measured and decent until it's time to make a statement. (T.Z.)
The Works is a column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller).