Measuring Greatness

I chime in on Lebron vs MJ. Plus, some extended thoughts on the Draft in light of yesterday's news.

News & Notes

  • The NBA season is over, the Lakers are champs, and LeBron is a King yet again. I’ll have more on this below.

  • Danilo Gallinari, a popular free agent target amongst the fan base, said that competing for a championship is more important than money next year. In other news, ESPN has the Knicks 30th in their first post-season power rankings.

  • Speaking of fan hopefuls, possible Knicks draftee Devin Vassell is reportedly a target of the Warriors, either in a trade down or possibly even at the second pick.

  • In other draft news, Marc Berman reported that a source senses that the Knicks “love” LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman, and if neither fall, they will look to trade down.

  • Kristaps Porzingis had another knee surgery (no, not that knee…the other one). He is expected to be ready for the start of next season, but that didn’t stop Jeremy and I from having some fun at the Mavs’ expense…

Listen Up!

ICYMI yesterday, Jeremy and I came up with a bunch of fake trades aimed at helping the Knicks but also improving Dallas’ top competitors in the West. I never said I was above being petty.

“Sources Say…”

I’m fairly certain I’ve reported some variation of this before, but I heard from someone else over the weekend with knowledge of the Knicks thinking that New York is heavily prioritizing the 2021 Draft. What exactly that means for this draft - or a potential Chris Paul trade - is unclear, but it would surprise me greatly if they dealt away either their own pick or the ‘21 Dallas pick in any transaction.

I can say, however, that as of the last I heard, Oklahoma City’s asking price for Paul was more than the Knicks had any interest in paying. Feel free to take this with a grain of salt, negotiations being what they are and all, but overpaying for Paul would seem to go against the forward-thinking vibe I’m getting regarding how New York views the ‘21 draft class.

A couple other notes:

  • I’ve been told Kira Lewis is “in play” for the Knicks. I reported a few weeks back that they were doing their homework on the speed demon from Alabama, and this leads me to believe that they continue to like what they see. Whether they view him as a possibility at eight or if Lewis would be the target in a trade down is unclear.

  • Someone familiar with at least one of LaMelo Ball’s team interviews (I’m not sure if it was the Knicks) notes that he underwhelmed and did not come across well.

Ask Macri

In light of Shams’ report that from October 16 to November 16, each NBA team will be allowed to conduct in-person meetings with up to 10 draft prospects for medical evaluations and workouts, here’s a Two-for-Tuesday in Ask Macri:

First things first: the Knicks have three picks to worry about, so it’s not like they should just be having their top targets for the eighth pick in the door. If anything, I’d argue that if there’s someone the Knicks absolutely love at eight, there’s no reason to waste a visit on them.

In addition, throwing smokescreens will absolutely be a thing that is in play. Tactically making these decisions, not only for possible eighth picks but the 27th and 38th as well, could throw other teams off New York’s scent.

So with that as the backdrop, my 10 would be:

  1. LaMelo Ball - I want to see the crazy up close, just in case things start going haywire on draft night and an opportunity presents itself.

  2. Isaac Okoro - I spoke to Auburn assistant coach Wesley Flanigan for the next episode of the KFS Pod, and Okoro has apparently been hitting the Tigers’ gym every morning at 7:30 am. I’d want to see the shot in person if I was Walt Perrin.

  3. Kira Lewis Jr. - Utah had this thing called the Stockton Drill which, as best as I can tell, was designed to get a prospect to keel over and die. I’d like to see how Lewis, who played 40 minutes or more six times last season, fared.

  4. Onyeka Okongwu - in the nightmare scenario where Edwards, Wiseman, Ball, Deni, Okoro, Hayes and Vassell are the first seven prospects off the board and no one is biting for Obi, Okongwu has to be in play. Like Okoro, I want to see the shot up close.

  5. Patrick Williams - came a long way in just one season; am curious to see how/if he’s polished his game since it ended.

  6. Aleksej Pokuševski - if you can peel back some of the mystery on the Draft’s mystery man, you might as well do it.

  7. RJ Hampton - I want to see the shot, especially since he is officially the first guy on my “well, if he’s there at 27…” list that makes my mind wander to dark places.

  8. Josh Green - The second guy on that list.

  9. Grant Riller - merely as a favor to Prez.

  10. Cole Anthony - first, always keep ‘em guessing, and second, because I think him being there at 27 is really in play, and I’d want to see him try to answer for last year’s disaster in person.

Notable absences:

  • Killian Hayes: shouldn’t even be a second thought if he’s there at 8.

  • Desmond Bane: shouldn’t even be a second thought if he’s there at 27.

  • Devin Vassell: There’s nothing a workout’s going to tell me about him that I don’t already know.

  • Obi Toppin: There’s nothing a workout’s going to tell me about him that I don’t already know (although I would stan Walt Perrin for life if he brought Toppin in for no other reason that to throw opposing teams off)

  • Tyrese Haliburton: see Toppin, Obi. I just don’t love the fit.

  • Tyrese Maxey: We hired a guy who spent the last year with him. I think we have our intel.

  • Tyrell Terry: I don’t need to see the additional 20-whatever pounds of muscle to believe it.

And now finally, my top five, as of October 13, 2020, for the eighth pick (assuming Ball, Edwards and Deni are gone).

  • Honorable Mention: Patrick Williams. I think he has a chance to be really good.

  1. Onyeka Okongwu - We just witnessed a Finals played between two teams that each routinely put three guys on the floor at once who were not what I’d call “threats” from long range. Yes, it helped that four of those were often All-NBA level players, but then again, Okongwu might be the best player in this class. He is a personification of where the NBA seems to be trending, at least where bigs are concerned, and I think there’s a world where he and Mitch can co-exist.

  1. Kira Lewis - He’s kind of become the point guard version of Vassell for me. I know he’s going to help me in a lot of ways and I know what his imperfections are. I see the ceiling that those highest on him project, but I’m lower on the probability he gets there. I still love him, but I’d feel like we didn’t make the best use of the eighth pick if we had to take him there without a trade down.

  1. Isaac Okoro - The first of three guys who I would be dancing in the streets if they wound up taking.

  1. Devin Vassell - By the slightest of margins over Okoro.

  1. Killian Hayes - Don’t overthink it.

Tweet of the Day

The Impossible Debate

Well now things are getting interesting.

For folks of a certain age - basically mine and older - the Lakers championship served as yet another unnerving nudge towards questioning that which we have held most dear. The debate about the greatest player of all time is no longer a cute pastime reserved for delusional millennials. If anything, the tables have turned. We are now Skip Bayless, except we’re not getting paid to yell at people trampling our lawn. We just sound deranged.

Why does this silly argument even matter? Because ultimate truths are the bedrock of sports fandom. Micky Mantle will always be the greatest baseball player ever in the eyes of my father because he’s Micky F——- Mantle and that’s just the way it is. Jordan is that, except for a generation of NBA fans throughout the country.

I’m not a very religious person, but I imagine that questioning Jordan’s status atop the mountain is akin to challenging the existence of one’s God, because to me and many others who saw him play, Jordan was, quite literally, a godlike figure. If you can’t fall back on that, why believe in anything at all?

After James led the Cavs back from 3-1 down in 2016, I started to acknowledge that a debate exists, but in the same way that I’d admit to my wife that she has a point about some disagreement or another that we’d be having, all the while thinking otherwise.

“I know you think you’re right, but I know I’m right, and nothing you could say or do can convince me otherwise, so I’m just going to take the easy road because self-preservation is a human instinct that I possess.”

But just as I’ve wised up over the years when it comes to realizing that women really are the wiser sex, I’ve come even further on the LeBron / Jordan thing than I once was. I’m not sure whether this championship pushed it over the edge where my whole belief system is now in free fall, but it’s close, and there is no end in sight.

Michael Jordan was, as Zach Lowe eloquently wrote yesterday, inevitable. As a rule, human beings value certainty, and men especially value dominance. Jordan gave us both.

But he only did it for six years, and with a two-year break in between. The Last Dance was a lot of things for a lot of people, but for me it was a solidification of the fact that there was zero chance Jordan goes undefeated between 1990 and 1998 if he didn’t take a hiatus. Does he win seven? Six? Five? Does he lose in ‘94 to the Rockets and get so frustrated that he demands a trade? Does Phil leave before the end of the run? Does MJ leave in free agency in 1996?

I don’t know the answer, but I know it ain’t eight in a row, which means we’d be dealing with a loss. That takes away the neatness of the argument that Jordan supporters - like me - have relied upon for years. There would be a moment (and maybe multiple moments) where the man who couldn’t fall short fell short.

Falling short has been a running theme for Jordan supporters for years where LeBron James is concerned. Again, Zach nailed this yesterday when he put that 4-6 Finals record into context: two losses against maybe the greatest team ever assembled, one that took advantage of a one-time only cap spike to bring together two of the three best players in the sport, a loss in 2015 with his second and third best players injured, and a loss in 2007 when he had no business even being there.

LeBron was 23 when he almost single-handedly vanquished the Pistons on his way to that first Finals. That’s the same age Jordan was when he got swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Celtics, who were 1987’s version of the Detroit team James beat by scoring 25 straight in Game 5.

I’ve been watching sports for nearly three decades and I’ve still never seen anything like the show James put on against the Pistons that night. It was unreal. But it was also unfortunate, because it made his picture messy. LeBron immediately followed up perhaps his greatest moment with his worst: getting his ass kicked by a far superior Spurs team. 20 years earlier at the same time, Michael was already in Cancun, yet it counts as a demerit to James’ argument. Funny how that works out.

LeBron’s playoff struggles over the next three years were then viewed differently than Jordan’s struggles with Detroit in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Michael’s clock hadn’t really started yet, whereas James was already regressing in his mid-20’s. Again: this was anything but linear.

If, however, we forget 2007 happened, and demarcate the career of each man from the moment they helmed a Finals team that actually stood a chance, the comp becomes more interesting:

  • 6 full seasons, 6 Finals, 6 rings, 6 Finals MVP’s, 4 MVP’s, 1 second, 1 third

  • 10 full seasons, 9 Finals, 4 rings, 4 Finals MVP’s, 2 MVP’s, 3 seconds, 3 thirds

But that still leaves us with 2011, and to a lesser extent, 2014. In one year, James was unable to summon the will to defeat a clearly better but not insurmountable opponent. In the other, he was frightened of his own shadow (or worse, that of J.J. Barea) to the point that he was playing hot potato with the basketball at the most pivotal moments of key games - games his team went on to lose where even a B+ level performance from him would have resulted in a ring.

Just as I’ll never forget what he did to Detroit in 2007, I’ll never forget watching that shirking as it happened. I said the night of Game 6, unequivocally, that “he’ll never be Jordan.” And for many people, he could approach, equal, or even surpass Jordan’s ring total, and that stance would persist. It remains, and will remain, the neat and tidy answer.

I can’t say it is still my answer, not anymore. While it is impossible to equate the death of a parent with the stress and pressure that comes with being a national villain, I’m now comfortable putting James’ performance in 2011 alongside Jordan walking away from the sport altogether in 1993. They were both mentally and emotionally shot. The big difference is that one man’s exploration of his demons played out on a national stage, while the other could toil away in the relative obscurity of Birmingham, Alabama.

Maybe I’m being too cute by half, but that’s where I’m at. I don’t know that I will ever nudge LeBron squarely ahead of Jordan in my own personal rankings, but they are now equal in my eyes. James has done too much for too long and made up for his emasculation vs Dallas too many times for me to discount the sum total of his accomplishments. He just ended the Finals with a triple double and three consecutive games in which he totaled 96 points on 57 shots, and we yawn, because we’ve all accepted: this is just what he does.

That inevitability may not be the same as Jordan beating all comers for the better part of a decade, but it deserves its own level of respect.

It - and he - certainly has mine.

That’s it for today! See you for another jam-packed edition tomorrow. #BlackLivesMatter #VOTE