LeBron James is understandably thrilled that Kevin Durant signed with Nike

Why it matters for the brand as a whole.

      
 

 

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Watch James Harden Play Awful Defense for Team USA vs. Turkey in FIBA World Cup

James Harden‘s defense is a popular subject of conversation among basketball fans.

It might be an even bigger topic if he showed a consistent effort on that end.

Last season, Harden was at times criticized for his lackluster defense, and rightfully so. The clip below illustrates how poorly Harden showed out on the defensive end.

Although the NBA is in the offseason, the FIBA World Cup began this weekend, and Harden’s trademark defense was back in classic form:

Perhaps it’s time for Harden to make good on his goal of becoming a better defender (via Bobby Gonzalez of Sheridan Hoops):

I spoke to several members of the USAB staff, and behind the scenes they were amazed at how good James Harden has become as an overall player since his last tour with Team USA two years ago. The fact that he came in and was focused on being a lockdown defender blew them away.

Based on what we’ve seen from Harden on a consistent basis, he’s still got a ways to go.

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James Harden and Kyrie Irving Have Shooting Competition at Team USA Practice

Team USA was preparing for its first FIBA World Cup matchup against Finland when Kyrie Irving and James Harden decided to engage in a friendly shooting competition.

Irving, a career 37.8 percent shooter from deep, barely edged out Harden, leading 5-4 at the end of the video. The competition wasn’t without a slight scoring controversy, however, as the two seemingly lost count of the score midway through the contest.

Team USA tips off against Finland at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

[YouTube, h/t Hoop Mixtape]

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James Harden Finds Rudy Gay for One-Handed Alley Oop vs. Finland

The United States aren’t having too much trouble in their 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup matchup against Finland, as they continue to make big plays like this one.

In the first quarter, James Harden found Rudy Gay for the one-handed alley-oop slam dunk. Team USA led 31-16 after the first quarter.

[Vine, h/t Twitter]

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James Harden says Kobe Bryant has “been working,” expects to see “20-year-old Kobe” next season

On October 28, the Los Angeles Lakers will begin the 2014-15 season with a much anticipated matchup with the Houston Rockets. While there are intriguing storylines surrounding the game involving Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant will obviously be the big draw for a couple of reasons. For one, it will be the first time that Kobe has faced off against Dwight since he left town last summer, though, more importantly, it will be the return of the Black Mamba to the basketball court.
After appearing in just six games last season, the basketball world is anxious to see Bryant back on the court, and if Harden’s assessment of the five-time champion’s current form is anything to go by, fans of the purple and gold should be very excited.
“I know he’s been working. We’ve talked a few times and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe,” Harden said in an interview with ThePostGame. “So, it should be a crazy environment. I’m ready for the upcoming season, it should be a good one.”
20-year-old Kobe

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5 Stars Who Can Challenge LeBron James’ Throne as the NBA’s Best Player

LeBron James is not going to be the best player in the NBA forever. 

In fact, some might think he’s already vacated the throne, surpassed by a certain forward in 2013-14, but we’ll get to that later. Operating under the assumption that he’s the No. 1 player in the Association, or at least quite close to it, there are still a number of players who should challenge him for that seat in the future. 

Now, it’s extremely important to note that these five players are not all making the challenge right now. In fact, three of them won’t be particularly close to him in 2014-15, though they have the potential to get there within the next five years. 

That’s the key—the potential. 

Even these five aren’t guaranteed to put on the crown at any point in their careers, though there’s evidence pointing toward their ability to do so. They could easily fail to get close or experience a Chris Paul-esque narrative, sitting pretty in the top five year after year without getting to the top of the heap. 

So again, don’t make the mistake of thinking these players will surpass James during the upcoming NBA season. In most every case, they won’t. 

Begin Slideshow

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James Harden Expects to See a ’20-Year-Old’ Kobe Bryant on the Court This Season

Everybody is curious to see how Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant plays this season after he has missed parts of the last two seasons with serious leg injuries. The Houston Rockets’ James Harden firmly believes that the Black Mamba will be ready to play when he steps onto the court.

The Lakers and the Rockets open the 2014-15 season against each other on Oct. 28 at the Staples Center. There is no doubt that all eyes will be on Bryant that night.

[ThePostGame, h/t LakersNation]

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Jerry Colangelo Calls James Harden the Leader of Team USA

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo was just answering a question, but in the process he may have given this team both guidance and a slick slogan.

Don’t fear the beardfollow it.

Those are my words, not his, but what he actually said about starting swingman James Harden wasn’t too much different.

Colangelo, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post, said he wants Harden to lead this team and feels he has the tools for the task:

Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader. Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.

… I don’t know if he’s been waiting [to lead]. It’s evolved. He came in as a pretty high draft pick. Got off to a great start in Oklahoma City. Whether he was disappointed or surprised by what transpired, he found himself in another uniform and that’s part of life in pro sports and the NBA, and I think he’s adjusted to that and his numbers get bigger and he’s being recognized more and more as the player he is. And this is a great platform for him to come out as a leader.

In some ways, Harden would be an obvious choice.

He is the only player on the roster to have earned All-NBA first-team honors last season. Harden is also one of the two players left from the 2012 Olympic gold medalists, along with Anthony Davis.

Then again, Colangelo may have had to put some thought into this. There are areas that could have given him some hesitations about handing over the keys to the bearded baller.

“Harden is only 25 years old, and he has only been a starter in the NBA for the past two seasons,” noted CBS Sports’ James Herbert. “He’s not known as a big rah-rah guy, and his lackadaisical defense has attracted so much attention over the past few months that his offensive brilliance has become underrated.”

Add Harden’s foot-in-mouth comments from earlier this summer—he called himself and Dwight Howard the Houston Rockets “cornerstones” and dubbed the rest of his teammates “role players or pieces that complete our team,” via Joaquin Henson of The Philippine Star—and he might seem as more of an awkward choice than an obvious one.

However, this call may have been made for Colangelo.

This team was supposed to be following the leads of Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, but both withdrew from the roster earlier this summer. Paul George’s two-way play might have put him in the running for a leadership role had a gruesome leg break not ended his run.

Frankly, there weren’t any conspicuous leadership candidates left. Anthony Davis is 21 with two years of NBA service on his resume. Derrick Rose is a major question mark after losing all but 10 games to knee injuries the past two seasons. Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry have shown some of the same defensive deficiencies as Harden.

Not to mention that Harden’s defense has looked significantly better on Team USA’s game film than it did on a certain viral video that pushed his problems under the spotlight. He looks more engaged now, and he says there’s a reason for that.

“First of all, you got the top players in the world on your team, so if you’re not focused and locked in on defense, they are going to embarrass you,” Harden said, via Lee. “I think our coach has done a phenomenal job of making sure we’re keyed in.”

If he can add defense and leadership to his already versatile skill set, he could serve as a reminder of the positive changes that can come out of this experience.

 

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LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Face Immediate Pressure to Win 2015 Title

There was a time—a period of about a month, to be exact—when LeBron James could get away with calling the Cleveland Cavaliers’ title chances “a long process,” as the all-world forward did in his July 11 open letter announcing his return to the franchise.

The core was simply too young and the coach too inexperienced to expect James to magically carry Cleveland to its first professional sports championship in 41 years. Close as they might come in Year 1, the Cavaliers were a team in need of time.

That was before Kevin Love.

With arguably the game’s best power forward now in tow, James and the Cavs are about to experience a different degree of pressure altogether:

Win now, win tomorrow, win often. Anything less will be second-tier rafter dressing.

In a recent column, Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor encapsulated the feelings of many a title-starved Clevelander, proclaiming in no uncertain terms that for the foreseeable future it’s championship or bust for this Cavs behemoth:

Thanks to biggest (sic) transformation the league has seen in one off-season, the Cavs, winners of 97 games the last four years, have gone from Eastern Conference doormat to the upper echelon of the NBA, and there’s no reason for them to not win the title this season.

Getting to the playoffs is not enough. Neither is getting to the Finals. The talent has been acquired. The pieces fit perfectly. Now there’s one thing left, and it’s something the franchise has never done before: win the NBA championship. Anything less would be a disappointment.

Rest assured, Fedor’s sentiments will steadily become the emotional modus operandi in Cleveland, outfitted as it is with two of the game’s top five players and—in Kyrie Irving—a potential third in waiting.

The mechanic tasked with making sure the gears fit: David Blatt, the longtime Euroleague staple and former Princeton University standout renowned the world over for his robust basketball mind.

A few months back, Blatt spoke to Cleveland’s newly anointed general manager, David Griffin, about what he viewed as one of his top strategic priorities.

Consider the genie one wish the poorer:

Just as Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra had in the first days and weeks of James’ South Beach stint, Blatt is sure to bear the brunt of the barbs—from fans and media alike—should the Cavs so much as mistime their gait out of the gate.

And like Spoelstra, Blatt has a chance to assert himself as one of the league’s premier pedagogues, should his distinctly San Antonio Spurs-like offense approach its Platonic potential.

Ultimately, though, this is James’ ship to sail or sink. It’s in his prodigal return that promise springs eternal; in his on-court genius that the Cavs’ image will be cast. This is no longer about making up for a poor public relations decision four years past. It’s about being the beacon of an entire region and the beastly burdens such an honor demands.

To his credit, James understands as much, putting it thusly in his letter for Sports Illustrated

My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.

Still, accepting a challenge isn’t the same as navigating it. From day one, the Cavs’ backs will be tattooed with bull’s-eyes, their every move scrutinized, every botched lob and losing streak set between the media crosshairs.

Whether the pressure will rival what James faced in the fervor following his South Beach sojourn remains to be seen. Rest assured, though, that even if the doubt’s of a different degree, the breed is bound to be the same.

Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale, in typically excellent fashion, underscored precisely this point in a column from August 18:

Crash or burn, this group is considered James’ more than the Heat ever were. That ownership puts a strain on everyone—James for having such control, the Cavaliers for giving it to him and Love for committing to it.

The stakes are different and, in this case, higher because of Cleveland’s to-be-determined window and the prospect of a feel-good story being tainted by too much self-forged change and a failure to meet the new-look expectations it creates.

Winning two championships in Miami might serve to ease the pressure as it concerns James’ legacy. The perspective of Cleveland fans, on the other hand, is precisely the opposite. To them, those banners represent not only stolen titles, but stolen time as well—four of LeBron’s best years spent in the service of some other house.

It’s precisely because James has proven himself something much more than an individual talent—a breed beyond the comparably banal basketball legends of a Karl Malone, Charles Barkley or Tracy McGrady—that his return reaches beyond the prodigal and toward something far more redemptive in nature.

James won’t weather the spotlight alone, of course. Between Love’s year-long power play and Irving’s somewhat tumultuous relationship with the city that drafted him, there will be plenty of media heat to go around.

Fair or not, somehow even these matters will manage to be filtered back through LeBron himself, as a reflection of his leadership and legacy, as reasons to buy or sell Cleveland’s odds at a thousand different junctures from now until next spring.

On a certain level, it’s all in a day’s work for King James, who’s had more eyes and judging minds trained upon him than perhaps anyone in the history of professional sports. From prep showcases on ESPN to 18-year-old hometown hero, playoff sputters to South Beach promises, LeBron has quite literally felt, seen and heard it all.

This time around, though, the attention he receives will be less about eyes looking for a headline and more about the millions of hearts aching for a hero.

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Andrew Wiggins’ HS coach: ‘Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him’

Andrew Wiggins might as well have been handed his walking papers by the Cavaliers the day LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland. Like the rest of us, the No. 1 overall pick knew the Cavs were looking to deal him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. But was he concerned about it? It […]

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