The NBA season got started last night and Lebron James and the Miami Heat easily dispatched with the fully recovered Chicago Bulls. With three Finals appearances and back-to-back titles for Lebron in the last three seasons, only those with Tea Party-to-Obama level hate/obsession with Lebron can still find fault with the man as a player. He has delivered in every single way that critics demanded and now he is to that next level of “Can he be the greatest of all time” phase of his career, now that he is clearly “one of the all time greats.” (Please click HERE for last year’s tour de force post before Game 7 of the Finals or this gem from right before Lebron’s 2012 Game 6 against the Celtics, i.e. I have always been right). But before the Lebron Tea Party gets fired up and starts spouting Michael Jordan stats at me, that is not the point of this blog. The point is that in our Internet troll, never apologize, just-move-on-to-the-next-potential-carcass-for-www-vultures culture, it is time to start picking apart NBA stars who are the next “he sucks because he has not won a title” guys. Never mind that in history, if Lebron ends up as a top 5 or better player of all time we will eventually regard players who lost to him as all time greats anyway (no one really rips Malone, Barkley, Stockton, Payton, or Ewing anymore for not defeating Michael Jordan – in hindsight it merely elevates Jordan’s legacy for vanquishing so many worthy opponents). And never mind that all of these guys on the list are under 30 years old. Because we are in the age and spirit of Twitter, the Internet is sure to be full of blogs questioning the heart, commitment, skills and toughness of lots of guys in the next year or so. So here are the guys I think are up for the New Lebron (for trolls) Award:
(Quick Side note – I think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is sort of right to be annoyed that he is always left out of GOAT discussions – 6 MVPs, 5 titles, all-time leading NBA scorer and a high school and college phenom who fulfilled all of his promise – just a thought – even though his sky hook was sort of like a video game cheat move that respectable gamers would ban each other from using).
The formula I use is a non-scientific combination of talent + exposure + opportunity + fun to watch (because trolls especially love trashing people who are fun to watch so they appear more grounded and knowledgeable):
8. Carmelo Anthony – I think he barely makes the list because very few people outside of NY believe that Anthony really has the game or mentality to actually lead a team to a title. I think after the Knicks get bounced in the first round of the playoffs this year people will sort of justifiably stop even worrying about whether Melo is a champion. But for this year, being in NY will be enough for there to be lots of “Melo is not a winner” chatter. I actually agree with this one.
7. Blake Griffin – one of the most fun players to watch makes him a prime target for armchair experts to question his commitment (HE’S ALSO IN LOTS OF FUN COMMERCIALS!) and whether he is working on his game enough. Because Chris Paul gets the “amazing leader/culture changer” label that Kevin Garnett got to have going to Boston, the main heat will continue to fall on the fun, but flawed star.
6. Steph Curry – Since he was so explosive last year (and as fun to watch as a guard as Griffin is as a big man, probably even more fun) that gives trolls an immediate chance to be the first to declare Steph Curry “overrated” or “lacking in championship DNA.”
5. Paul George – the darling surprise of last year’s playoffs is a very complete player. Young, rangy, plays well on both sides of the floor are all good qualities, but a year after America even discovered this guy if he loses to Lebron again, instead of giving greatness credit to Lebron they will start asking of a 24 year old, “Will he EVER win a title????”
4. James Harden-Dwight Howard – Dwight (or Da-Wight if you are any number of excitable black journalists on television) Howard is such a (somewhat deservedly) reviled doofus in the NBA that I think they will tire of bashing him and allow some of their hate to drip on to James Harden. Like George, Harden shocked dummies last year with how well he played as a number one target (which then forced people to switch from praising Harden to troll the Oklahoma City Thunder for being “so stupid” to let him go) that now trolls are hoping they can start calling him overrated and say that he and Howard are not winners, if they do not win in their first year together in a very deep western conference.
3. Deron Williams – not as good as a few of the players listed below, but trolls love burying guys forever and if Deron cannot make a serious title run with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez then he will have done the least with the most among top tier teams. And Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are not serious enough to hate and Pierce and Garnett are now 45 year old champions so it all falls on Deron. He may not be considered as good as some players on this list, but haters and trolls smell a carcass near the end if he fails to win and that makes them salivate.
2. Derrick Rose – Injuries and hate of the Heat have given Derrick Rose a pass (hate of Lebron forced people to ignore that Lebron shut Rose down late in the 2011 series when they played), but now that he is healthy, has a team people think can challenge the Heat and he stayed out all last season (the haters and trolls started to take a whiff of Rose when he sat out the whole playoffs, as if preparing for a full attack on him if he fails to dethrone Lebron in 2013-14). The nation loves Rose as an anti-Lebron, but he may become their new Lebron if he fails to make noise this year.
1. Kevin Durant – I saw it happen last year on social media and it pissed me off. Durant went from “I might take him ahead of Lebron if I had to start a franchise today” guy to “He cannot lead a team and is not complete enough (even though he went to the playoffs without his two best players that he had going to the Finals the year before).” Ignoring that he was a 3 time scoring champ by age 24, that he led a team to the NBA finals at 23 and that his game continues to methodically improve, haters did not have Lebron to hate anymore so they moved on to the next best thing. Which is the best compliment one can give to Kevin Durant.
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