Brooklyn vs. L.A.

The NBA Playoffs won’t commence until May 22 and the NBA Finals won’t be contested by the grappling of two squads until July 8 but, this early, we might as well erect a giant Times Square billboard and posterize the inevitable.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers. 

The NBA is composed of 30 teams and we can debate and wrangle over the merits and handicaps of each team. But given what transpired in the last 72 hours, the obvious has become unmistakable.

Kevin Durant. James Harden. Kyrie Irving. Blake Griffin. And, early this week, the disembarkation of LaMarcus Aldridge, a 7-time NBA All-Star. This “Brooklyn Five” combine for a mouth-watering 40 total NBA All-Star appearances. 

“Life is unfair; and it’s not fair that life is unfair,” someone once commented.

Steve Nash, the Nets’ coach, besieged with questions on the unfairness of his collection of superstars, replied: “It’s not like we did anything illegal so I don’t know what we’re supposed to do, not try to add to our roster and just sit pat? The idea of this league is try to put together the best team you can put together. And that doesn’t guarantee you anything in life.”  

Steve, it guarantees you a free pass to the NBA Finals where a Hollywood cast awaits..

LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The duo merge to establish the most formidable pairing in Lakers history since Kobe and Shaq. The Lakers are the defending champs and, with a line-up this 2021 that includes Schroder, Montrezl, Kuzma, Caruso, KCP, Gasol, Matthews and THT, they were pre-installed as the title favorites.

Until LBJ and AD got injured. Until the “Brooklyn Five” was formed.

So, what counter move did Rob Pelinka, the VP of the Lakers, perform? He convinced a 6-foot-10, 279-lb. giant with a 7-foot-5 wingspan named Andre Drummond to transfer — like LeBron did — from Cleveland to L.A. 

Drummond fills a gaping hole at, literally, the center of the Lakers’ formation. He is a rebounding specialist, pulling down rebounds like a farmer would pick apples from a tree. Drummond has led the league in rebounding four times and is the league’s all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks. The big, who was born in New York but is moving West to help Los Angeles, has achieved that four times.

“So much of the playoffs are about the paint, you know, and he’s a physical force down there,” said Orlando coach Steve Clifford, of Drummond. “He’s a great rim protector and one of the great offensive rebounders in our game. He could win one or two playoff games for you just for this physicality and size alone.”

So, in this impending brawl between Brooklyn and L.A., who’s the winner? 

First, the losers: The 28 other teams who will be left salivating at the sight of the Nets-Lakers dispute. This will surely be one of the most anticipated NBA Finals in history. This is a war between the Justice League vs. the Avengers.

The winners? You and me and all of us, basketball fanatics.

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All are Stars in this game

In the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, a total of 17,808 spectators filled the United Center to witness Team LeBron defeat Team Giannis in a thrilling 157-155 encounter.

This weekend, the All-Star Game continues. What’s the difference? Plenty. First, the people on the rafters will not exceed 1,500. Considering that the State Farm Arena has a capacity of 16,600, that’s less than 10 percent attendance.

Last year, the All-Star Weekend was held early — Feb. 16, 2020 — before the lockdown was enacted. Thus, a full capacity crowd was invited.

We’re even lucky the All-Star Game is pushing through this 2021. Originally, it was to be held in Indianapolis. Then, the league officials said that it would be cancelled. It reversed course and said that it would continue in Atlanta, Georgia. From the usual whole-weekend spectacle, it has also been reduced to one day.

The Three-Point Contest and Skills Challenge will be held before the game. Then, during halftime, instead of the sexy dancers entertaining the audience, it will be the Slam Dunk Contest. 

These are the changes. What won’t change are the words “all stars.” The planet’s best ballplayers will converge in a high-scoring, plenty-of-dunks, minimal-defense, lots-of-laughing contest that will be played (Phil. time) tomorrow at 9 A.M.

LeBron, Giannis and Steph Curry in the same team? Wow, this hasn’t happened before. Add the Slovenian 22-year-old Luka Doncic and the 26-year-old Serb Nikola Jokic and that’s a mighty Avengers-type squadron. Team LeBron is the favorite against any other team in the universe — well, except this team being assembled in Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum lead the starting five of Team Durant. I’m excited with the first All-Star game of Zion Williamson. During the Draft Pick, as soon as Kevin Durant picked the 20-year-old Pelicans star to be part of his line-up, you could hear a sigh from LeBron. He, too, wanted to play alongside the 6-foot-7, 248-lb. monster-dunk specialist.

The NBA All-Star Game dates back to 1951 when the East defeated the West in Boston Garden. For 70 years, it has been one of the sporting world’s highlights. It also produces the most number of points of possibly any basketball game in the world. The record, back in 2017, was the 192-182 win by the West. That’s a whopping 374 points scored in 48 minutes.

Tomorrow, I’m also excited with the 3-point shootout. Steph Curry, the 2015 winner, is the perennial favorite. The interesting fact this 2021: Zach LaVine and Donovan Mitchell are joining. They are former Slam Dunk champs — and no one in history has gone on to win both the dunking and 3-point events. Will tomorrow be the first?

In the Slam Dunk contest, only three are joining: Anfernee Simons, Cassius Stanley and Obi Toppin. I’ll make an admission: as I typed their names, it was the first time I’ve heard of these three. They’re young (21, 21 and 23) and hungry for that prestigious high-flying title.

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Free Throws

Steph Curry is the all-time best at that uncontested basketball shot taken 15 feet away. This season, he’s made 176 of 187 foul shots and is shooting an incredible 94.1% clip. Last January, he was en route to breaking Michael Williams’ record of consecutive free throws (97) but, in the game against Portland when Curry scored 62 points, he ONLY made 18 of 19 free throws. His one missed free throw ended his streak of consecutive foul shots at 80. Not bad, Steph! 

There is no debate that GSW #30 is the greatest shooter of all time. In the 3-point-shot department, he ranks No. 2 in the all-time list of 3-pointers made. He has 2,657 three-pointers and lacks only 317 to break Ray Allen’s record of 2,973. But here’s the amazing statistic: It took Allen 1,300 games to reach that record. Curry has played only 732 games.

Back to the Free Throw Line..  While Curry is the best, did you know that the worst free throw shooter ever is Wilt Chamberlain? Yes, no misprint there. In his 1958 to 1973 NBA career, the 7-foot-1 former Harlem Globetrotters center went to the free throw line 11,862 times. He converted only 5,805 for an embarrassing 51.1% average. 

“Wilt the Stilt” holds multiple NBA records such as most points scored in a game (100), most rebounds in a game (55), and the highest per game average (50.36 PPG in 1961-62) but his record of free throw misses also ranks at the top.

Shaquille O’Neal joins Wilt as one of history’s worst foul shooters. His career average is 52.7%. He was so bad at shooting from the free throw line that teams devised the “Hack a Shaq.” It’s a defensive ploy with a simple tactic: Foul Shaq! This was a successful gambit that was first used by Mavs coach Don Nelson and employed by many teams.

Dennis Rodman was one target. “The Worm” stood only 6-foot-7 but was the league’s best rebounder, leading the NBA in this area in seven seasons. (I got the chance to see Rodman when he played at the Mandaue Sports Complex and he was both fun and funny.) As a free throw shooter? Rodman wasn’t as bad as Wilt or Shaq but he shot only 58.4% in his 14-year career. 

This 2021-22 season, the worst-performing is Clint Capella with a 54.6% average. But here’s a question that’s mind-boggling: Why is Russell Westbrook (the 2017 NBA MVP awardee) the fifth-worst free throw shooter this season (60% average)? 

Same with the two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. He sits as the 7th worst free-throw shooter this season.

LeBron James’ numbers also puzzle me. He carries a dismal 69.8% average this 2021. That’s a dip from his 73.4% career average.

Which brings me to my Trivia Question: Who is the best free throw shooter so far this season, beating Steph Curry’s 94.1% and Chris Paul’s 96.2%?

The answer: His grandmother, Marcelina Tullao, hails from Bacolor, Pampanga. He played for Gilas Pilipinas and, with his stellar 2021 play, is the early favorite for the “Sixth Man of the Year” trophy. With a free throw percentage of 96.4%, his initials spell JC.

Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

LBJ, MVP

(Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Will the above letters spell LeBron James, Most Valuable Player?

After 29 games played out of this season’s 72 outings, the answer is a resounding Yes. 

The NBA’s MVP award is one of the sporting world’s most coveted. Given that the league’s 30 teams have a roster of 15 players each, that’s a total of 450 of the best ballplayers among the planet’s 7.7 billion inhabitants. And of that elite group, one will emerge brightest.

This 2021-2022 season, LBJ is the oddsmakers pick to win his 5th MVP crown. Thus far — including yesterday’s 30-point, 13-rebound win — he has averaged 25.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game. He doesn’t lead the NBA with those stats. But the MVP award was never purely about numbers. At times, it’s the intangibles that matter. Why LBJ for MVP?

First, LeBron is 36 years old. This matters. Longevity and consistency matter. Given that he was snubbed for the MVP plum last year (losing to Giannis), he might be the sentimental choice this season.

Second, LeBron leads the NBA with the Real Plus-Minus statistic. He’s No.1 followed by Steph Curry, CJ McCollum, Paul George and Joel Embiid. What’s “Real Plus-Minus (RPM)?” It’s the “+/-” number in the box score and it’s the net change in score (plus or minus) while the player is on the court. To me, this figure is very, very important.

Third reason: LeBron is shooting amazing three-pointers. As of today, he’s shooting 38.1% from beyond the arc. Only his 2012-13 season with Miami, when he averaged 40.6%, was higher. His career average is 34.5%. He does the “Logo Three by LeBron,” shooting near the half court line. His most famous shot was when he unleashed a no-look 3-pointer from the corner, winning a bet against Dennis Schroder.

Fourth, it’s this comment by coach Frank Vogel: “LeBron does it on both sides of the ball. That why he’s probably going to be this year’s MVP, carrying the load offensively and quarterbacking the defense. No. 1 defense in the league and taking these tough assignments and making these plays down the stretch.”

Fifth, the Lakers are en route to another title run. I know, I know, we’re not even halfway through the season. But with Montrezl, Caruso, Kuzma, THT, KCP and Gasol, it’s hard to see anyone stopping the Lakers, even with AD’s recent calf strain injury.

Which brings me to the question: On his 18th year, what motivates King James? 

LeBron wants to play with his son LeBron Raymone. Now 16 years old (and standing 6-foot-2), Bronny will graduate from high school in 2023. This means that the son can do what his dad did, move straight from HS to the NBA. It’s no secret that LeBron wants to play alongside Bronny. This father-and-son combo has never happened in the NBA. The closest was baseball when Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. played MLB in 1990 and 1991.

Reason # 2: Be the GOAT. Michael Jordan is the undisputed Greatest Of All Time. But if LBJ matches MJ’s six NBA crowns and he overtakes Kareem to become the all-time scorer, then I’d pick King James over Air Jordan.

NBA 2021

In America the past week, the average daily number of new COVID-19 cases exceeded 200,000. This is horrifying. It’s also very, very different from what the NBA experienced when the “Disney Bubble” happened months ago.

Last July when the NBA season resumed, 22 of the league’s 30 teams returned to Orlando, Florida. From the bubble’s first regular season game on July 30 until the last day on October 11 when the L.A. Lakers defeated the Miami Heat, not a single person inside the bubble tested COVID-19 positive. 

Incredible. That’s at least 73 days involving hundreds of players, coaches, referees, officials, hotel staff — and not a one COVID-19 case. 

The 2020 NBA Bubble was remarkable for many episodes. The near-stoppage of the season when the Milwaukee Bucks and the other teams protested the shooting of Jacob Blake. The Clippers’ loss to the Nuggets despite the 3-1 lead. LeBron and AD’s bromance that resulted in an “easy” championship win for the Lakers. Add one more statistic — zero coronavirus cases — to the many significant moments in the “Orlando Bubble.” That’s the 2019-2020 season.

Yesterday, the first pre-season games of the 2020-2021 season started. This time, there won’t be a strict bubble. Although spectators are disallowed from watching their favorite teams, the players will fly to various cities and be exposed to the public (hotels, buses, airports).

Will we experience another scenario with zero cases throughout the 72-game regular season (reduced from the usual 82 games)? Absolutely not. It’s a guarantee that several NBA players will get infected during the NBA season that will start on Dec. 22 and end in July.   

What are some of the new protocols with the NBA season?

First, if a player tests positive, he has two choices: be inactive for at least 10 days since the first positive test or onset of symptoms, or he has to get two negative PCR tests (at least 24 hours apart).

Another ruling states, “Any player who tests positive, even if asymptomatic, will not be allowed to exercise for a minimum of 10 days and then must be monitored in individual workouts for an additional two days.”

Teams are allowed a maximum of only 45 people when they travel. There will be an anonymous tip number that anyone can call to report possible violations of the safety protocols.

One policy disallows team personnel from visiting bars, clubs, gyms, spas or pools, or from participating in social gatherings with more than 15 people.

The NBA has anticipated that positive cases will be reported. But they’ve also agreed that the entire season won’t be shut down simply because of one or two cases. This means that the league has to manage these situations as efficiently as possible.

The good news: the Pfizer vaccine has been approved in the U.S. Considering that there are only 510 players in the league (17 players x 30 teams), the NBA officials will request for the players to be administered first. I’m sure we’ll see photos of Steph, Kyrie, Giannis and the other NBA stars getting that vaccine soon.

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3-pointer

Although the NBA was founded in June 6, 1946, it wasn’t until October 12, 1979 that the first three-point shot was made. For 33 years, the NBA did not include three-point shots in the rulebook. Even if you lobbed the ball from half-court, it still counted as two points.

It’s been nearly 41 years since Chris Ford of the Boston Celtics was credited with that historic first trey. Today, this shot has never been more important.

Consider this fact: Three-point shooters are outscoring paint scorers in the 2020 playoffs. As of Monday, there were 4,602 points counted from beyond the arc and only 4,512 from the paint. 

Kirk Goldsberry wrote about this recently in an ESPN article, “NBA playoff success has never been so dependent on 3s.”

This trend of increasing points from 3s has been growing every year. Just six years ago during the 2014 post-season, only 27.9% of all the shots taken came from 3s. Here’s the breakdown: 30.2% (2015); 31% (2016); 34.8% (2017); 35.5% (2018); 37.9% (2019).

This 2020 playoff bubble: 43.4%. In simple terms, more than 4 out of every 10 shots taken is a three-pointer — easily the highest percentage in NBA history.

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are to be credited for this spectacle. The 32-year-old Wardell Stephen Curry II is third in the all-time 3-point field goals made (Curry has 2,495 behind Ray Allen’s 2,973 and Reggier Miller’s 2,560). But it’s his percentage that’s mind-boggling. He converts 43.5% of all 3s that he unleashes. His teammate Klay Alexander Thompson is equally impressive with his 41.9% threes converted.

Donovan Mitchell is another standout. He recently bested the Splash Brothers when he made 33 3-pointers in one playoff series (Utaz Jazz’s loss to the Denver Nugges). That eclipsed the previous record of 32 of Curry in 2016.

James Harden is another culprit. He is not only the league’s leading scorer (34.3 PPG, regular season) but he also made the most step-back 3s this season with 195, besting Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.

“Harden’s Rockets have been the harbingers of this whole movement. Back in 2016-17, they became the first team in history to ever take more than 40% of their shots from 3-point range,” said Goldsberry. “Everybody is the Rockets now.”

Everybody is throwing 3s. If we look back at OKC’s Game 5 loss to Houston, for example, the Thunder attempted 46 three-pointers — and converted only seven for a dismal 15% clip. That surely contributed to their embarrassing 80-114 loss to the Rockets.

Toronto won yesterday and is still in contention partly because of Fred VanVleet. For the past two playoff years, the 6-foot-1 guard has made 46% (of 3-pointers) each time they win and a measly 26% whenever the Raptors lose. 

In today’s NBA, plenty of games are decided by how well (or poorly) the team shoots from behind that line that measures (from the center of the basket) 23 feet 9 inches.

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NBA rebounds

(Photo from ESPN.com)

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is humongous. It spans 220 acres and it’s situated inside the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Our family had the chance to spend New Year’s 2015 inside Disneyworld and the footprint is colossal. The sports grounds include 12 volleyball courts, 10 tennis courts, and a 7,500-seater baseball stadium.

The ESPN Complex is also home to six college-size basketball courts — the venue where NBA players will play the remainder of the season.

July 31 is the target date. Players, coaches and staff will be invited to the facility by mid-July so they can practice. A limited number of family members are expected to join. They, too, are to be subjected to the same rigorous COVID-19 testing protocols.

Of the NBA’s 30 teams, not all are expected to return. Those in the bottom cellar won’t be asked to come back. The Warriors, for example, carry a 15-50 win-loss record. No need for them to return. Only those teams that have the chance to make it to the playoffs will be asked to come back. 

Twenty, maybe 22, teams will return. And while the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) and the Los Angeles Lakers (49-14; leading in the West) are guaranteed playoff spots, there are a number of teams that are still vying for the remaining slots. Sixteen teams will comprise the playoffs. 

All this is not final yet. The NBA’s Board of Governors, who talked last Friday, appear to be excited with the return. They will meet again on June 4 and a three-fourths majority of owners are needed to give the go-signal.

“We are lining up behind (Silver) on this,” an owner confided to ESPN. “The posturing will end. Nothing is going to be perfect for everyone.”

Silver, as you know, is Mr. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner. He is the man at the center, juggling the demands of players who want to return and the concerns of many who are scared.

There will be a “series of bad options,” Silver says, of the NBA restart. He added that no decision that league makes will be risk-free. 

What if Kawhi gets the virus from a Walt Disney Hotel staff member? Or Giannis gets infected by one of his assistants? Or Kyle Lowry’s family member gets sick? Simbako. But the risks are high. The hundreds of players, referees, arena staff, mediamen and family members will live inside a quarantined bubble. Like a cruise ship, when one gets infected, it easily spreads; the same thing can happen.

The NBA is preparing for this eventuality. Even if one or two or a few get infected, the plan is to isolate these cases and continue. Easier said than implemented.

Money is a huge factor in the equation. Although millions of dollars will be lost because of the absence of fans, the TV deals are still big bucks. The NBA’s national TV package hovers around $2.7 billion per year.

The man most excited for the NBA rebound? LBJ. After watching The Last Dance, the 35-year-old LeBron is in probably his last best chance to wear NBA ring No. 4.

 

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No fans

The NBA Playoffs would have started today. Instead, the entire planet is on an extended timeout. The world is frozen. Can the NBA (and other sports) resume? 

Given the state of COVID-19 in the U.S. (over 720,000 infected and 33,000 deaths), there is no way for the games to restart next week or next month. Not with 19,000 fans screaming inside the Staples Center.

The only way to resume the contest?

“Nobody comes to the stadium.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease expert, had this response: “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them (the players) in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled, namely a surveillance, but have them tested, like every week. By a gazillion tests. And make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family. And just let them play the season out. I mean, that’s a really artificial way to do it, but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.”

LeBron James, when was asked about this possibility, had this reply: “Ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd.” 

But LBJ’s reply was back in March. This was before the world realized the cruelty and venom of the coronavirus.

So the possibility of fans sitting side by side in a packed arena is hallucinatory. It’s not possible. Not even the “checkerboard” arrangement, where fans sit one or two seats apart, is acceptable.

President Trump concurs with the no-fans option, saying, “It’ll be made for television. The good old days, made for television.”

Here’s the viable scenario for the NBA: Choose a couple of key U.S. cities. (I’m sure New York, given its epicenter status, won’t be one of them.) Group together the teams and restart the league with a locked-down hotel and stadium without fans.

The “quarantined bubble,” it’s called. It’s muted, boring, desolate and lifeless — yet possible. But herein lies a problem: Can you fully isolate the hundreds of players and staff of the 30 NBA teams?

Dr. Caroline Buckee of the Harvard School of Public Health is frightened with this approach.

“It sounds like potentially a bad idea,” Dr. Buckee said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to completely isolate and quarantine the players. For a start, there are people who will need to clean their rooms, feed them, wash their clothes, janitorial staff and so forth. And those people will not be protected and they will be interacting with their communities. It is very difficult to truly self-isolate. Purposefully putting people at risk seems foolish.”

What if there’s one COVID-19 case that will infiltrate this bubble? Think of a scenario like a cruise ship.

This is a risky option. But the league doesn’t have a choice.

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Warriors still golden

The NBA is composed of 30 teams. After the season tipped-off last October 16, a total of 1,230 regular season games were played in the U.S. and Canada (Toronto). From the original 30, a total of 14 teams were eliminated. Only the top 8 squads per conference qualified to join the playoffs, which began last April 13.

From the 16 teams that entered the NBA Playoffs, we’re down to 8. If this were another sport, it’s called the quarterfinals. What comments can we deduce so far?

One, the Golden State Warriors is Number One. Led by the unstoppable force named Kevin Durant, GSW is, by far, the team poised to collect their 4th NBA ring in five years. There are websites that provide real-time odds and, after their 2-0 lead against the Houston Rockets, the Warriors are now -200 favorites to win the title. (Your $200 bet will win you only $100.)

Durant. Curry. Thompson. Green. Igoudala. How can you bet against this formation? They’re the Avengers and, for everyone else, it’s an end game.

The Houston Rockets, we thought (and many hoped), would topple the Warriors, like they almost did last year. But that’s looking unlikely. Chances are, after extinguishing the team of James Harden and Chris Paul, the next challenge for GSW in the Western Finals will be easy prey.

Denver or Portland? What a scintillating 4OT game yesterday! But either team won’t pose a major Thanos-like problem for Golden State.

The East is more exciting. After stealing Game 1 in Milwaukee, we expected the Boston Celtics to sustain the momentum and overwhelm Giannis Antetokounmpo. Given the erratic wins and losses of the Celtics in the regular season, what we witnessed in the playoffs was the rejuvenated Celtics. They swept the Indiana Pacers and extinguished the Bucks in Game 1 for a 5-game winning streak.

Celtics all the way to the NBA Finals, right? Not so fast. They lost Game 2 and lost again at TD Garden yesterday. It’s back to the same erratic performances for Boston.

My choice in the East? The 76ers. Back in November, my wife Jasmin and I had the chance to watch Philadelphia play the Atlanta Hawks at the Wells Fargo Arena. The experience was electrifying. Joel Embiid, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons were the stars. Then they added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Today, they’re much stronger and are leading the Toronto Raptors, 2-1.

My forecast? Warriors-Trail Blazers and Bucks-76ers; Warriors-76ers in the final with California winning again.

The side talk has been on the 2019-2020 season given the list of the upcoming free agents: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kristaps Porzingis, Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler.

Imagine the scenario of Zion Williamson landing with the Knicks and Durant and Irving joining the rookie in New York? This will vault the lowest-performing team (17-65 this season) into the top spot.

For Lakers fans, how about Kawhi joining LeBron? Or is Kawhi flying to LA but the other LA team: the Clippers? The possibilities are irrestible.

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Star Wars

Only LeBron James can call the U.S. president “U Bum” and be considered a hero. Voted by his peers as “The Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team,” only LBJ can manufacture a “3 in 1” deal: absorb the shocking loss of Kyrie Irving and emerge with three replacements: Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade.

D-Wade? Yes. It’s no secret that the former Miami Heat teammates are best friends. For four years while together in Florida, they made the trip to the Finals each season and won twice. Can D-Wade’s reported entry into the Cavs elevate this squad to rival Golden State? Absolutely.

What we’re seeing is the beauty and defect of the NBA. The strong become stronger while the weak turn powerless. There’s GSW. Has there ever been a stronger bunch in the league’s 71-year history than the formation of Steph, Klay, Draymon and Kevin? Probably not. I’d rank this gang higher than MJ-Pippen.

The NBA has 30 teams. The idea is to distribute the talent so no one team dominates completely. But we know the world doesn’t operate this way. Some have more money. Others have the clout of a Magic Johnson who can lure a Lonzo Ball.

The NBA has entered the era of the “Super Teams.” Of the 29 U.S. cities plus Toronto competing in the NBA, these “super teams” are a handful of squads whose roster includes at least three superstars. And unless you’ve assembled such All-Stars, you’re doomed.

This 2017-2018 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder has emerged as a super team. Joining the MVP Russell Westbrook is Paul George. And if that one-two punch isn’t potent enough, Carmelo Anthony leaves New York to form their Big 3.

The Houston Rockets is another. James Harden is joined by Chris Paul. How about the New Orleans Pelicans, with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis? My question is: Why the lopsided strength of the Western Conference? GSW, OKC, Houston, Spurs. And there’s the Minnesota Timberwolves with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.

The East? We might as well proclaim the Cavs as East Champs because of their lack of competition. It’s unfair and lopsided, this West vs. East pendulum.

As for LeBron and Wade, their bromance started in Miami and is continuing in Cleveland. But these two aren’t young; LeBron turns 33 in December and Wade celebrates his 36th birthday the month after.

“I would love to have D-Wade a part of this team,” James said of his 12-time All-Star best friend. “I think he brings another championship pedigree, championship DNA. He brings another playmaker to the team who can get guys involved, can make plays and also has a great basketball mind.”

Come October 17 when the NBA’s first regular season game kicks off and, perfectly-scripted, the Cavs face the Celtics, LeBron’s face will be smirking at Kyrie as if to say, I got Isaiah, Derrick and my man D-Wade to replace you, boy!

Fast forward to the 2018 NBA Finals, imagine a line-up featuring Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and Iguodala against James, Rose, Wade, Thomas and Love. Like the intergalactic movie series, I can’t wait for this real-life Star Wars, Part 4.