Kyrie Irving has his finger on the Brooklyn Nets’ dead man’s switch

“Trade me”

A dull day with the Brooklyn Nets is merely the calm before a Kyrie Irving storm. On Friday afternoon, the Nets star point guard added another chapter to his tumultuous tenure in Brooklyn by placing his finger on a metaphorical dead man’s switch by outright requesting a trade from the Nets.

Last week, Irving’s agent went on the record with Bleacher Reports’ Chris Haynes to express his client’s desire to sign an extension with the Nets. Irving was known as a cantankerous figure, but in Brooklyn, the distractions appeared to escalate every season. An agreement with Irving would undoubtedly be a one-sided affair. Irving will poke and prod at the guardrails and then cross the third rail when that doesn’t garner enough of a reaction. When the Nets didn’t acquiesce to his most recent demands for a long-term deal, he requested a trade. Now the Nets have to wonder whether he’ll sit out if his demands are met. Don’t give me that screwface. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities.

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When healthy, Irving has been a sorcerer with the ball and one of the most creative shotmakers in the entire league. It was worth making one last run at a title and fulfilling the promise of this duo. We should have known trouble was brewing when his social media pages started percolating with more cryptic Da Vinci Code clues. A week after being named an All-Star starter, Irving has stuck another banana in the tailpipe of this Nets franchise.

The saddest part of this saga is that the Brooklyn Nets were finally flying high. Head coach Jacque Vaughn appeared to have Irving’s ear. Their switching defense was more imposing than it had ever been during Steve Nash’s run. Irving pulling this nonsensical sabotage now is the madness he manifests. Between Nov. 27 and Jan. 8, which is when Kevin Durant sprained his MCL, they’d won 17 of 19 games and were ascending fast.

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Durant’s knee has barely had time to heal, before a shiv was placed in his back by the point guard he committed to the Nets with back in 2020. The Nets shouldn’t be surprised either. They stuck with him through his refusal to get vaccinated, after he took time off to go partying maskless in the middle of the 2021-22 season during a winter COVID spike across the country and after he served a suspension related to an anti-semitic film he promoted, then took a week to disavow. In the offseason, Irving threatened to opt out, then opted in after they found a shallow market for Irving.

Irving’s request doesn’t just shake up the franchise at the deadline, but it also impales Durant’s career. Durant hitching his wagon to Irving has been the biggest mistake he’s ever made. After the serene two championships in four years Durant won with Golden State, and Irving’s championship years as LeBron James’ sidekick in Cleveland, he and Irving sought to build something as equals. Instead, Irving has written a horror story for Durant. His destructive tendencies were a wedge that played a part in driving away James Harden. He single-handedly tanked the Nets and prior to that, set the Celtics championship project back a few years. Don’t forget, he also requested a trade away from the Cavaliers after the 2017 Finals. This is his pattern.

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Ramifications of an Irving trade

So let’s unpack the trade deadline ramifications. The outcomes for Irving are fairly straightforward. Los Angeles is the only franchise that has the will and the pieces to negotiate a trade for Irving and his expiring contract. Russell Westbrook has been a supplemental piece off the bench for the Lakers and his $47 million salary will be instrumental in matching Irving’s contract if a trade were negotiated.

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However, for Brooklyn, this would be a deal to strengthen the future. The Lakers would likely need to surrender their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, but it’s an exchange the Lakers would make in an instant. If Rob Pelinka is savvy enough, he’d lop Joe Harris into the deal as well to provide the NBA’s worst shooting team with another floor-spacing sharpshooter. Then, they’d have to appease him with a contract extension. Fortunately, LeBron is the league’s only proven Kyrie whisperer, and if the Clippers leap on an Irving trade, Laker Nation will be fuming. The Heat are skulking around, but Pat Riley, Jimmy Butler, and Kyrie Irving feel like a match near a leaky gas line.

For Durant, this could take a while. The elephant in the room is the Golden State Warriors. If Irving gets his reunion with James, Golden State should do everything in its power to get involved somehow. A sleepy trade deadline, just got a shock to the heart. The more things change, you can always count on Kyrie Irving to set the world on fire.

Chandler Parsons taken to task on Twitter over LeBron James critique

Image for article titled Chandler Parsons taken to task on Twitter over LeBron James critique

In case you missed it, we had Chandler Parsons sighting recently, and it wasn’t on an NBA team’s injured reserve list. The oft-injured former NBA player is no longer on a roster in the Association if you can believe that. Now that his play days are officially over, Parsons can be seen on FanDuel TV offering his two cents. During a recent episode, Parsons reacted to LeBron James’ reaction to not getting a foul call at the end of the Celtics game, which L.A. lost by four in overtime.

“I can watch my French Bulldog get run over by the mailman right now, and I would not react like that.”

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The internet is not feeling Parsons’ critique of James’ reaction, whether it was too theatrical or not. It’s also funny hearing this come from a player who probably would’ve come up lame with an injury on the same play. After all, that’s pretty much how Parsons’ career can be summed up. He was hurt constantly, and Twitter hasn’t been shy about rehashing that fact.

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That doesn’t mean Parsons isn’t entitled to his opinion, but you know there are certain players/celebrities you can’t criticize without their fan base getting at you. The same way Stephen A. Smith felt the wrath a couple of weeks from Rihanna’s minion, Parsons is getting similar treatment on Twitter from King James’ kingdom.

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Parsons suited up for 440 games during his nine-year NBA career with four NBA franchises. It’s hard to believe he played that many games because he was frequently sidelined with an injury. After being named to the 2012 All-Rookie team, Parsons was supposed to be the “next big thing” in the Association, but that never panned out.

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Despite what anyone thinks of Parsons, he managed to make upward of $127 million in less than a decade in the league. That ain’t bad work if you can find it.

When it comes to load management, Steph Curry says it’s not the players who want it

Image for article titled When it comes to load management, Steph Curry says it's not the players who want it

The gentrifiers of Brooklyn caught a raw deal on Monday night. The Los Angeles Lakers are in New York on a back-to-back, meaning that LeBron James and Anthony Davis were only going to play one game. People who purchased tickets for the Brooklyn Nets game received the short end of the load management stick. It’s the same end of the stick attendees of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers’ most recent matchup were stuck with on Jan. 20, when Stephen Curry and several other Warriors’ starters did not play.

Load management is a bummer for the fans, especially when they want to see players on teams that only visit once per year. All NBA teams take road trips, and a back-to-back will likely be on the schedule during that period. Most star players do not dress for both of those games. Following the Warriors’ 128-120 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Curry reminded those who have a problem with players resting that the people in the jerseys and shorts don’t make the decision on when they’re out of the lineup.

Steph Curry on load management

“I campaign to play every game,” Curry told the media. “That’s the misconception about load management. It’s never the player that’s saying, ‘Hey, I wanna sit.’”

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That is most certainly a message that Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith, Chris Mad Dog” Russo, Mike Greenberg, or anyone who has an issue with players missing a few games in which they might be healthy enough to play should hear. Barkley has recently been the most outspoken when he said on Sirius XM Radio’s NBA Today that he wants the owners to “put their foot in [the players’] asses in this next CBA.”

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Sir Charles’ ire shouldn’t be directed at Curry or anyone else. The person who makes that call for the Warriors is Health and Performance Director David Taylor.

Draymond Green’s thoughts

“We have the best science guy in the game in Dave Taylor. Why would we ignore him?” Draymond Green said to Fox Sports’ Ric Buecher. “There are guys who played in this league who tried to play all 82 games who can’t walk anymore. So, toughness is what you make of it.”

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Do people really believe that four Warriors starters met privately and decided not to play in Cleveland, or that Davis and James did the same on the flight to New York, or that Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan all elected not to play on a TNT Thursday night in 2013?

These are decisions made by the coaches, player personnel, and training staff. People who are familiar with Larry Bird’s back going out on him before he played 10 NBA seasons. They remember Barkley’s knee problems in the mid-1990s. Isiah Thomas ruptured an Achilles tendon in 1994 and retired after 13 seasons. Kevin Durant ruptured an Achilles in his 12th season and averaged a shade under 30 points per game in his 14th.

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Extending careers

Players’ careers are being extended and championship windows are staying open longer. The Warriors won their first title with Curry in 2015, and fifth championship in 2022. Hell, the San Antonio Spurs won their first championship in 1999, and their fifth title in 2014. Celtics’ fans loved watching Bird dive into the stands for loose balls every night, but they probably would have preferred him to be healthy in the early 1990s, and the Celtics competing against the Chicago Bulls for NBA Championships.

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The NBA is a grind and it’s getting more and more physically taxing every year. Players are coming in with significant mileage on their bodies from rigorous AAU and foreign professional league schedules. Now they fly to 29 other cities and have to guard Nikola Jokić on the break and in the paint.

For those who buy individual game tickets to NBA games, yes it will continue to be a letdown when management sits the best players down but things could be worse. You could be a Denver Nuggets fan in Colorado. Your favorite team has the best record in the Western Conference, but like most cable subscribers in the state, you are an Xfinity customer and therefore have no access to the channel in which the games are aired.

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Success for the business will always be prioritized over day-to-day consumer satisfaction. So those of you who buy tickets on a load management day, feel free to be upset. Just make sure you’re angry at the correct people. The same decision-makers in other industries are enjoying record profits while your egg prices are rising.

For once, the NFL being America’s most popular sport worked to the NBA’s advantage

Jayson Tatum defends LeBron James in the final shot of regulation play during the fourth quarter at TD Garden on January 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts.

The officiating crew from that Saturday night Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics matchup was let off the hook by the NFL playoffs. Chris Jones disrupted the Cincinnati Bengals far more than any mistakes from the officials on Sunday night, but any added difficulty is always burdensome when dealing with the Kansas City Chiefs.

When NBA referee social media sent out that refs make mistakes, too tweet on Sunday afternoon, the post was rightfully clowned. Of course all humans make mistakes. However, when large ones happen at work those shouldn’t be explained away by tweeting out, “John Q. Public, you all screw up too.”

The Chiefs – Bengals refs were worse

Fortunately for the NBA, their Saturday shortcomings were eclipsed during the 6:30 p.m. EST NFL Conference Championship Game. Those referees made a glaring error in front of many more millions of people.

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During an early fourth quarter drive there had been some problems with the clock. Lead official Ron Tolbert had already explained a clock issue when one of the strangest moments in NFL history took place. A referee in the secondary was trying to blow a Chiefs third-down play dead before it started. No one noticed and the Chiefs got stopped, but they were eventually allowed to replay the down.

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The Chiefs got a whole second-chance at 3rd and 9, and ended up converting. If Patrick Mahomes had two healthy legs and his normal crew of pass catchers the Chiefs probably would have at least scored off of a field-goal attempt.

Instead the Chiefs punted, but their defense was far from done with Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ offense. They intercepted Burrow, giving their offense the ball deep in their own territory. Then, while on defense, the Bengals got hosed again. Mike Hilton was called for a ticky-tac pass interference penalty that extended the Chiefs’ drive.

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That penalty was another one that Chiefs weren’t able to take advantage of, but the extra time they had with the ball could have meant a world of difference to the Bengals. With more time, maybe Burrow doesn’t commit that disastrous intentional grounding penalty. Another questionable flag because the ball appeared to be intended for Samaje Perine, but Burrow didn’t get the ball to the line of scrimmage. The referees deserve the benefit of the doubt on that one.

All of these consequential plays in a win-or-go-home NFL playoff game, it can be easily forgotten that NBA referees cost the Lakers a road win that they desperately needed on national television the night before.

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Refs cost the Lakers a win, too

Darvin Ham had to use his challenge on a defensive foul that was called against Anthony Davis when Jayson Tatum had clearly initiated the contact. However, with that challenge used up, Davis was called for an unjust foul later that stuck. And then came the big one.

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LeBron James got to the basket for a game-winning layup, and missed it because his lead arm was struck by Tatum. If the foul is called, James attempts two free throws with less than one second remaining in the game. The Lakers ended up losing in overtime, and fell to four games under .500 on the season.

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That mistake was so bad that the referees were forced to admit it, but most American sports fans have already forgotten about that play. Ask most sports fans with no connection to Southern California about poor officiating, and they’ll respond something along the lines of, “how did the Chiefs get a whole extra play?”

A rising tide lift all boats and it’s time we threw Jason Whitlock’s ilk overboard

Image for article titled A rising tide lift all boats and it's time we threw Jason Whitlock’s ilk overboard

Choosing between women’s and men’s sports is a false choice. If you’re a certain blogger for Glenn Beck’s conservative Blaze media, revisionist history can be a comfort zone that vilifies feminism in sports as your woke sports boogeyman, but makes you look like a headass instead. Jason Whitlock’s resentment-driven tweet on women’s basketball’s place at the bottom of the sports hierarchy eventually led to a longer missive against women’s societal advancements and the fall of masculinity.

Oddly enough, in a link I don’t care to share, Whitlock proceeded to blame feminism for everything ranging from drag queens, to the degradation of the nuclear family, and the decline of biblical values. In Whitlock’s opinion, the glass ceiling wasn’t sturdy enough.

He pontificated in his Wednesday column: “As technology advanced and curbed the natural hardships of basic survival, American men led the world in granting freedom and autonomy to women. Feminists have taken advantage of man’s instinct to please women, casting themselves as long-suffering victims of male supremacy, and reshaped American society into a culture that favors the weaker sex.”

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In fairness to Whitlock, let’s analyze all the excellent points he made.

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Hold on a second. I read the entire screed. Something will squeeze out soon…

Whitlock spews more garbage

He did attempt to trace a crooked link between modern society and early man’s roles as hunter-gathers, but it doubled as a rant against evolution. Imagine beginning your argument for a return to medieval masculinity by bemoaning women’s sports on TV. As usual, the intellectual cupboard is bare. Whitlock’s fragility over women’s sports is indicative of the obstacles women in workplaces have always faced. For a contingent of dudes who take his word as gospel though, women’s sports are their bête noire.

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Battling over an alternate view of history that makes a case for how sexism was good or opining that the women from the Greatest Generation who took occupations in defense plants and factories during the war effort of the 1940s defanged American culture is a fascinating insight into how a twisted mind justifies itself. Don’t give yourself hemorrhoids trying to mine wisdom from those thought turds, and never roll with a pig in his sty.

Women’s leagues have helped usher in sports’ golden age

If you’ve browsed the front page of Deadspin’s space lately, or any industry leaders like Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, or Yahoo Sports, you’d know the myth of the feminist agenda pushing men’s sports aside is a pile of crap. America’s Big 4 leagues, plus NASCAR, Formula 1, college football, and college basketball have reigned supreme since being given a 50 to 75-year year head start over organized women’s athletics.

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In a few short months, the U.S. Women’s National Team will defend their World Cup so you can expect to see their faces plastered all over ESPN screens between now and then. The USWNT has won half of the first eight Women’s World Cups FIFA’s held, but had to grapple with U.S. Soccer for pay commensurate with men last year. Their decades-long push was reminiscent of Billie Jean King and the “Original Nine’s” early enterprising. Their revolutionary founding of the WTA is one of the impetus for women’s tennis being on a more equal footing with the men’s tour.

The most prominent leagues have had to share space in an increasingly crowded room (pickleball has entered the chat), but this is the golden age of live sports. The continued growth of women’s leagues has been nearly as monumental as streaming has been to prestige television. The only downside to the panoply of options at our disposal is the paradox of choice.

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Dawn Staley and Kim Mulkey are college basketball titans

Today men’s college basketball is in a rut. It’s as rife with parity, as it is empty in name-brand, blue-chip talent, or upper-echelon teams. The inverse of men’s hoops’ suboptimal tornado of middle-of-the-road teams, is happening in the division where Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks are cruising toward a repeat. Fans love dynasties and one may be building in Columbia.

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UConn is still a threat on Feb. 5, however, its biggest obstacle resides within the SEC.

Kim Mulkey and Staley have taken the baton as college basketball’s preeminent rivalry. The juiciest storyline in college basketball, regardless of gender, is the upcoming tilt between the only undefeated teams left in the nation. Hopefully, someone informs Alfalfa’s He-Man Womun Haters club not to switch on the late-night SportsCenter shows on the night of Feb. 18.

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The halcyon yesteryear of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry is long gone in the Vols’ post-Pat Summitt era. Even with former Naismith Player of the Year Paige Bueckers on the mend for the entire season and phenom Azzi Fudd in and out of the lineup, UConn has been firmly entrenched in the top 10. Tennessee is still on the road back to prominence under Kellie Harper and was promptly smacked down by the Huskies on Thursday night.

While we’re on that note, contrary to the Blaze TV blogger’s soliloquy about women’s advancements coming off the backs of men’s work, the infrastructure for modern women’s basketball was originally built by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. At its peak, the AIAW’s membership consisted of 280 colleges that held championships across 19 sports, including women’s hoops. The AIAW was a women’s collegiate sports organization founded by women, but in 1981, the NCAA took over from the AIAW after 120 schools left for the more economically advantaged NCAA.

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Breanna Stewart’s free agency

Over in the WNBA, free agency is in full bloom. Candace Parker is vacillating on whether to wind her career down in Chicago or with one last hurrah in Los Angeles. Free agent center Brionna Jones, the reigning Sixth Player of the Year, is essentially seeking to branch out after her second Finals appearance. Think of a bigger James Harden in 2012, trying to loosen himself from Oklahoma City’s bench.

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The bulk of WNBA free agency attention is trained on Breanna Stewart’s movements. Reportedly, Stewart has whittled her choice down to approximately four teams, including her home state New York Liberty, a pairing with Elena Delle Donne in Washington, running it back with a depleted Seattle Storm roster, or zagging unexpectedly to the Minnesota Lynx.

There’s no planned primetime TV special starring Jim Gray, or Hannah Storm for the internet Whitlocks to carp about, but the Liberty are what everyone in the league office is undoubtedly rooting for. Imagine if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had chosen the Knicks in 2010. Or if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden had been a more well-adjusted collection of personalities. Stewart linking up with 2020’s No. 1 overall pick, Sabrina Ionescu, recently acquired 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, and free agent Courtney Vandersloot would be the culmination of an arms race with the Las Vegas Aces.

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In addition to looking out for her own future, Stewart is using her clout to engineer solutions to funding charter flights for the league’s 12 teams. Stewart’s efforts have reignited the discourse around the WNBA’s problematic travel arrangements. We’ve long known that cramming long athletes onto commercial flights dozens of times a season is a hindrance to peak performance, but the WNBA hasn’t quite taken it to heart yet and Stewart’s not keen on waiting until the CBA expires in 2028 to address it.

Ultimately, for every sports fan with Whitlock’s attitude, there’s Kobe Bryant. Kobe and others understood that a rising tide lifts all boats. In his final years, Kobe became an advocate for women’s hoops. Then, three years and a day ago, he perished on his way to coach his daughter’s AAU team. But if you’re having trouble choosing between living in a shared reality where the Black Mamba’s noblesse oblige spirit is considered ruinous to culture or one where internet Whitlocks signify strength, your worldview is bass-ackwards and you’ve got your head on the wrong side of your torso.

I need a ruling on how we’re supposed to feel about Bronny James

Bronny James

Despite being the only prospect outside of the top 23 that made the McDonald’s All-American team, Bronny James is the game’s headliner. The 34th ranked recruit in 2023 is getting a dramatically larger brand bump from his last name than Arch Manning, and I don’t know whether to be outraged or sympathetic. It’s possible for two things to be true, but diametrically opposed feelings? That’s a mind fuck.

The case for outrage

I’d like to think that most rational people think influencers suck. The term, the shameless hocking of products and integrity, an incomprehensible attachment to the internet. Selling out used to be vilified, and now kids can’t do it fast enough. I personally blame the fall of the music industry, and acts having to put their music anywhere because there is no revenue from album sales, but I digress.

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What does this have to do with Bronny? To call him an influencer moonlighting as an NBA prospect would be harsh, but I assure you, anti-LeBron James people feel that way. Obviously, Bronny is getting a massive boost in notoriety because of who his dad is. The son of the King has been in Nike commercials and Space Jam 2 (not sure if that’s a compliment, but let’s keep it moving).

Even though logical fans know Bronny isn’t the second coming of his father, LeBronites are facing the daunting reality of their favorite player’s career nearing its end. Who the hell are they supposed to root for if they spent an entire NBA fanhood rooting for a player and not a team? The opposite is true, as well. LeBron haters will be without an entity to throw memes at every season.

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If LeBron had it his way, he’d hand the torch of the league over to his son when they inevitably play on a team together. (Anthony Davis sure as hell isn’t going to take it.) Knowingly or not, LeBron also is passing the hate torch.

It’s fair (or completely illogical) to go from rooting for (or against) the father to rooting for (or against) the son, especially if you’ve got no direction. I’d argue that the people who hate LeBron — even if they’re not bothered by nepotism in the real world — will have (already have?) a selective amount of outrage for the favoritism shown to his son. Skip Bayless has already fired the first diatribe.

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The internet has enough hate to spread it around, and items included on that list are nepotism, things anointed by the internet, and LeBron. So, good luck to Bronny.

The case for sympathy

For all of those reasons just stated to dislike Bronny, he’s still just an 18-year-old kid. The pressure he faces because of his name is unfair. LeBron has even acknowledged that he regrets giving his son his name. The bar is set unreasonably high, yet it’s no fault of Bronny’s.

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He grew up on the internet, literally, and has been in the public eye for going on two decades. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and that’s something his dad worked hard to instill. So what if he has a large following on Instagram and Tik Tok? Seriously, who the fuck cares?

He’s a young, Black kid living like royalty and taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded to him by his father. America generally loves a succession story, so why should this be any different? There are innumerable Hollywood stars who got into acting because of a famous parent, and we don’t hold it against them even if they’re not as great as they’re predecessor. Who doesn’t like Rashida Jones or Scott Caan? (And who didn’t like Paul Giamatti before those Verizon Commercials?)

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In any case, Bronny is going to learn real quick about just how difficult the path to NBA relevance really is. Giannis Antetokuonmpo’s brothers are anywhere from 4 to 7 inches taller than him, and they still can’t crack a rotation. There’s no doubt that young James will be on an NBA roster in a couple years, because LeBron can still hoop and said he wants to play with his son. Teams will be lining up if all it takes to get a year out of LeBron is a second round pick, or picking up an undrafted free agent.

If that’s the case, the thought of Bronny’s career high point being an exchange of alley-oops with his dad is… sad. It’d be great for basketball if this was a Griffey-type situation, but Ken Griffey Jr. was the No. 1 overall prospect out of high school. The Mariners selected him first overall. Bronny has improved his ranking, but if he could jump straight from high school to the NBA, he’d go undrafted if he went by any other name. He’s a combo guard, so the best case scenario is, what, a more athletic Seth Curry without the hereditary jumpshot?

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This is a long way of saying, Bronny can evoke anger or sympathy, and I don’t know whether to mock or defend him. It’ll probably be a bit of both, so feel free to call me a hypocrite.

A change for the better

LeBron James

For sports fans who believe that NBA basketball has been “too playground” since Larry Bird retired in 1992, this year’s All-Star game is doing the opposite of reaching out to those fans.

The NBA is taking it all the way back to the schoolyard this year in Salt Lake City. Yes, the starters will still be voted on by a combination of the media, fans, and players. Also, there will still be 12 players from each conference, reserves voted on by the coaches. The difference this year, fans will get to see the players divided up live, in a pregame segment.

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No more East vs. West

For five seasons, the NBA has done away with East vs. West All-Star game matchup, and had the two leading vote-getters serve as captains who pick and choose teams from amongst the other all-stars. In 2018, it was done privately. LeBron James then tweeted out that he wished it had been done on television, so since then captains have made their picks live.

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While the process is aired on TNT, only Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson, and Shaq are in the same room. The captains are in different parts of the country and no other players are televised. This season, if LeBron James and Kevin Durant — or whoever the leading vote-getter in the East is — decide to mess with James Harden by picking him last, he will be staring right at them if receives an All-Star selection.

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Taking a page out of the NHL’s book

The NHL did something similar to this from 2011-15, except they set it up like the actual draft. It was interesting, but it might have been more fun if the players were lined up at center ice and skated over to the side that chose them.

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The details on how exactly the choice of players is going to be executed have not yet been revealed. We will all find out together whether or not pyrotechnics will be involved, if Kevin Hart will be making witty comments about the players as they are picked, or if players will be elevated up from underneath the court once their names are called. I’m just happy they finally have gone all in with this pickup game style of dividing up the teams.

I used to enjoy the East vs. West matchups every year, regardless of how competitive the game was. NBA All-Star Weekend is one of my favorite events on the sports calendar. I never thought it needed fixing. If I was in charge I would bring back the old Stay in School Jam from the 1990s — more so for the mascot slam dunk contest than the wholesome message.

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As fun as it was to pull for the perpetual underdog Eastern Conference, change is fine with me as long as the idea is good. Bringing basketball back to its literal most elementary form, choosing teams at recess, sounded like a winner as soon as the NBA decided on it. Of course, it will be more embarrassing this year for a player to be the last pick in front of a national audience than it would be in front of 10 of his friends two decades ago, but NBA players receive large financial bonuses just for being selected as an all-star. That check should quickly remove any shame.

NBA fans, be sure to get to the T.V. a little bit earlier than usual on All-Star Sunday. It’s the most athletically similar your favorite players will ever be to you. Waiting to be selected for a pickup game in the middle of winter.

Rui Hachimura can’t be the only chip Rob Pelinka acquires before trade deadline

Rui Hachimura is now with the Lakers

After a pair of scintillating comeback victories over the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies jolted the Los Angeles Lakers back to life, their embattled General Manager Rob Pelinka decided to clock in for the first time this season by finalizing a deal that would acquire Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers have been teetering on life support throughout the first half of the NBA gauntlet. Anthony Davis has been on the shelf so long he’s beginning to mold; LeBron James is overworking like James Evans in “Good Times” to put food on the table offensively; and Russell Westbrook is misfiring at will off the bench. However, the Lakers are three games under .500 nearly 50 games into their season.

Meanwhile, Pelinka has been on his “Weekend at Bernie’s” steez at work all season. You’d be hard-pressed to think of the last significant move he authored. In truth, the last rotation player Pelinka pulled the trigger on was plucking Patrick Beverley from Utah for Stanley Johnson and Talen Horton-Tucker. The simmering rumors of a Buddy Hield, Myles Turner swap involving Westbrook’s $47 million deal never materialized. Instead, the Lakers tinkered around the perforated edges by sending Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks for a Washington wing who’ll be a restricted free agent this summer.

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Wizards are in the Brick 4 Vic lottery

Washington trading Hachimura trade is less them waving the white flag in exchange for tickets to the Brick 4 Vic lottery and more of an acknowledgment of Hachimura’s disgruntlement. Hachimura’s $18.8 million cap hold presents its own complications for the Lakers until the upcoming restricted free agent agrees to a new multi-year contract after the season or opts for the qualifying offer, then waits until 2024 to become an unrestricted free agent. Either way, the Lakers could have Hachimura under team control for another season after this one if they choose to retain him.

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What Hachimura brings to the table

Since being drafted ninth overall in the 2019 draft, Hachimura has since been relegated to a bench role in Washington, but is still a worthy scoring threat from the perimeter. In Los Angeles, he’ll assume similar duties. The 6-foot-8 wing has a 1-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but his spot-up touch from beyond the arc will be put to good use on a Lakers squad that ranks last in makes from distance and 25th in efficiency behind the arc. Hachimura’s 33 percent shooting off the catch from distance is ugly, but the Warriors are relying on him returning to his 2022 form when he drained catch-and-shoot triples at a 47 percent clip.

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The peripheral benefit for Hachimura, besides potentially opening up the floor for LeBron James, is the reunion with former Wizard teammates Russell Westbrook and Thomas Bryant. This time, they’ll be coming off the bench to supplement Davis and James. By riding the pine for the opening minutes instead, Hachimura will square off without superior starters for 30 to 35 minutes a night. Most importantly, Hachimura is still only 24 and has more upside to bump his head against.

Ultimately, the Hachimura move should be just the start for a Lakers squad that’s been poorly constructed around James and Davis. Pelinka, who’s been sleeping on the job since the Lakers’ 2020 bubble title has never appeared to have a theme in mind for the team he’s sculpted out of dung.

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If Pelinka is serious about rebooting the Lakers on the fly, Westbrook is still the most likely candidate to head for the exits. The Lakers have spent the offseason rehabilitating his stock, but he is what he is at this point. He’s a name-brand point guard with knockoff productivity. Westbrook’s intensity and relentless nature would be better served as an example on a young team. During games, often veers around the court blowing exhaust fumes and exhibiting diminished horsepower.

Hachimura won’t be enough to satisfy Shannon Sharpe and the legion of championship-or-bust Lakers fans. A veteran microwave scorer like Eric Gordon, who’s discontent on a flailing Rockets team, may be available, but Pelinka reeling in a more prominent name is the bare minimum that can significantly alter the Lakers’ current lottery trajectory. L.A.’s front office is beginning to show the same fight as their outmatched roster.

Shannon Sharpe apologizes for tirade against Grizzlies

WTF is going on over at Undisputed these days?

Shannon Sharpe’s sideline tirade directed toward the Memphis Grizzlies turned the retired NFL tight end and Undisputed co-host into a trending figure during Friday night’s NBA on ESPN matchup. Sharpe’s feud with the Grizzlies just before halftime distracted from what was an otherwise entertaining game and on Monday’s show, Sharpe opened Undisputed with an apology for his behavior.

During a three-minute opening mea culpa, Sharpe apologized to the fans, Jeanie Buss, the Lakers organization, the Grizzlies, Dillon Brooks, Ja Morant, LeBron James, his network and even his stylist for the unwanted attention.

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His sincerity was in stark contrast to the childish non-apology Skip Bayless delivered two weeks ago for his insensitive Damar Hamlin tweet. Sharpe’s attempt to take on the entire Grizzlies team, a new take on man vs. bear (I’m taking the man), turned the host into a polarizing figure.

Afterwards, LeBron James leapt to defend “Unk” in his postgame press conference by telling the assembled media, “I ride with Shannon 365 days — 366 on a leap year — 24/7. So that’s my guy. I always got his back. And he’s got mine. He can talk with the best of them, for sure.”

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WTAs usual though, fireworks from the Undisputed co-hosts have been good for their show’s visibility. Still, there’s no doubt that if the host had been a non-celebrity fan, he probably wouldn’t have been courtside for the remainder of the game.

Bronny’s bound to be a Buckeye

Bronny James

Has there been an athlete ever more hyped before becoming a professional, and lived up to those expectations, more than LeBron James? How many other high schoolers got solo covers of Sports Illustrated? Kevin Garnett graced the magazine’s front before James, while Sebastian Telfair did after. It’s completely hit-and-miss for future expectations but sets the stage for a ceiling of expectations to be in the stratosphere. And James conquered all of them on the court.

Imagine being his eldest son, Bronny James, who is in his senior season for one of prep basketball’s most recognizable brands, Sierra Canyon. The Los Angeles-area powerhouse has been at the core of three seasons of a Freevee (formerly IMDBtv) documentary, with the younger James becoming a more central figure each season as he’s gotten older. His Hall of Fame father is an executive producer on the show. Bronny’s future is about to become clearer, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Narrowing it down

Bronny James, who is a top-40 prospect in the Class of 2023, has a top three of where he’ll attend college. Ohio State is LeBron’s favorite — duh — alongside other strong contenders, USC and Oregon. The report states the high-school James will make his collegiate decision after the Trailblazers’ season ends, which will likely be in mid-March. No high-level conference school is giving out a scholarship to anyone they don’t believe can live up to high expectations, name recognition or not. Regardless of his father being one of the hardwood’s GOATs, Bronny has developed his own reputation and there’s no reason to think he can’t hang in the Big Ten or the Pac-12. And making it to the NBA is far from a shoo-in, despite what LeBron wants. 

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It’s gotta be Ohio State

Let’s not pretend like Ohio State isn’t going to be his destination barring something completely unforeseen. The Buckeyes missed out on bringing the greatest basketball player from the Midwest — much less their own backyard —ever into the fold by none of their own doing. LeBron was NBA-bound even if name, image, and likeness were in full swing in the early 2000s. But that’s the exact reason the influence on Bronny will likely draw him to Columbus. With his father placing some phone calls, getting a nice multi-million-dollar NIL package for Bronny shouldn’t be that hard. The amount of goodwill and publicity it would do for Ohio State basketball would far outweigh any costs to a true freshman.

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Of course, anything can happen and James should have the respect of his father to truly go anywhere for college. But when your family is in the public eye and outside pressure may influence your hand, it’s hard to ignore that and shut it out. Bronny’s probably heard stories not for public consumption about what his dad would’ve done if he had the one-and-one rule, or if he delayed his NBA future by a few years. Becoming a Buckeye is in his blood and we’ll see that come to fruition in about two months.