The Corner Three: Lebron for MVP, Atkinson Leaves Nets, and Gallo’s Got Game

ONE.

LeBron James said he isn’t motivated by winning an MVP, but he is motivated to prove he’s the best in the game. So what we have here is a matter of semantics.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 13: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on December 13, 2019 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“It’s not even debatable,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s having that type of season.”

And in case anyone thought otherwise — looking at you, Charles Barkley — LeBron put it all on display Friday night on national television in a 113-103 win over the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the 53-win Bucks.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 6: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers plays defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks on March 6, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

LeBron had 37 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds but more importantly made sure everyone see him take on the challenge of defending Giannis, one of the toughest players in the league to defend, after Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Anthony Davis got into early foul trouble.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – DECEMBER 19: LeBron James #23 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers wait for a free throw during the second half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on December 19, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

“For him to take on that assignment and still do what he did offensively?” Vogel said, “Just an incredible performance.”

Head to head this season, LeBron has defended Giannis for a total of 7:33 of game time according to NBA tracking data. Giannis has 10 points on 2 of 10 shooting and 1 for 6 from three. He did draw four fouls and is 5 for 6 from the line.

Giannis finished the game with 32 points and 11 rebounds, but he also left Staples Center a little banged up with a sore knee after an awkward fall. He also took a shot to the face in the game. This clash of the titans could be a preview of an NBA Finals matchup.

And the so-called #WashedKing, which was LeBron’s hashtag of choice before the season began, would love to face yet another young star coming for his throne.

But no king is complete without his court. The Lakers clinched a playoff spot for the first time in seven years with the win. Last season, LeBron alone wasn’t enough to end the drought, but the offseason addition of Davis has made this team an instant contender. Giannis has an all-star in Khris Middleton, but he pales in comparison to having AD as a sidekick.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 6: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 6, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

That’s why some feel what Giannis is doing again this season, with the Bucks challenging for a 70-win finish, more impressive and more MVP worthy.

Barkley found it appalling that there was a growing sentiment among the national media — broadcast and print — that LeBron should be in the MVP conversation.

Lakers teammates who see him on a daily basis disagree.

“He’s the MVP,” Kyle Kuzma said. “He shows it every night.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 02: Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the first half of a preseason game against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on October 2, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LeBron claims he doesn’t care. He said winning an MVP “never motivated me.” He said, “To be the best to ever play in the game has motivated me and has resulted in me being league MVP a couple of times.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 21: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers react to a play on February 21, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

At the age of 35, it could happen again.

TWO.

A third coaching in-season coaching change was made when the Nets announced that they have mutually parted ways with Kenny Atkinson. It came as a shock to most who follow the NBA and yet it wasn’t entirely surprising.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 26: Kenny Atkinson of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during a break in play against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Capital One Arena on February 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

The Nets (28-34) had been slipping a bit after the All-Star break, but just won two of their last three games. They sit seventh in the pillow fight that is the Eastern Conference playoff race and are five games up from any threat of falling out of the top 8.

Oh and did we forget to mention Kyrie Irving is out for the season after opting for shoulder surgery? He played just 20 games this season. Kevin Durant is playing three-on-three and is talking about playing in the Olympics come August, but it was already determined that he would not be available at all this season.

DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 14: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets on November 14, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 10: Kyrie Irving #11 (left) talks with Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets during a timeout during the first half of the game against the Miami Heat at Barclays Center on January 10, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Both players were on the bench due to injury. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

So with Spencer Dinwiddie and his team-worst 112 Defensive Rating and Caris LeVert (and a bunch of others Irving conspicuously once left off his list of players the Nets have to build with), Atkinson was pushing Brooklyn to a second consecutive playoff berth for the first time in 13 years.

DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 7: Spencer Dinwiddie #8 of the Brooklyn Nets handles the ball against the Denver Nuggets on November 7, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The keyword here is “pushing”. Following a four game losing streak, Atkinson took advantage of a two-day break between games and held a rugged practice. “You’ve got to get a little uncomfortable when you’re not doing well,” he explained.

He felt like the team needed it. A week later, the team let him know they didn’t want any more of it.

Irving is only around the team at home games. He doesn’t travel. Durant the same. Atkinson had wanted them around the group at home and on the road to provide a presence to the team as they made their final push toward the playoffs without them on the court. Both can claim they have no blood on their hands because they’re not around.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 25: Fans cheer for Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets after he scores a three-pointer to put the Nets ahead in the second half of their game against the New York Knicks at Barclays Center on October 25, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

But with Kyrie’s history, especially after what happened in Boston (and how the Celtics look and sound today), all eyes are on him.

Kyrie wanted to come to the Nets, he said, because he was grew up a Nets fan and said he was caught up in how much fun the team had last season, when reclamation project D’Angelo Russell was leading them to a surprising playoff berth. Let’s also not forget that when KD signed with the Nets, he said he went to YouTube to watch Atkinson media addresses and “I really liked his approach to his craft as coach. And that’s what drew me in pretty quickly.”

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 28: D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Golden State Warriors reacts against the Philadelphia 76ers in the third quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on January 28, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Warriors 115-104. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

So what changed then? Everyone I know around the NBA always nod at these moments and repeat the mantra, “It’s a player-driven league.”

If Kyrie and KD wanted Atkinson to stay, he’d still be the coach.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 31: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets hugs Head Coach Kenny Atkinson after being removed from the game late in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on January 31, 2020 in New York City.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

THREE.

It’s hard to believe that it was 12 years ago this June that the Knicks made Danilo Gallinari the 6th overall pick in the draft. Gallo, who is now 31, has had quite the NBA journey, which included an entire 2013-14 season lost due to a knee injury. But he’s having one of his best all-around seasons of his career as he heads into free agency this summer. This is the final year of a three-year contract he signed with the Clippers, with a salary of $22.6 million this season.

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 6: Danilo Gallinari #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against the New York Knicks on March 6, 2020 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

For that price, he’s a bargain in today’s market. Gallo is averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting 41% from three-point range. When he came into the league as a 19-year-old rookie out of Italy, the game was just starting to see the arrival of the stretch-4 player. At 6-10, Gallinari is now the prototype for what every NBA team wants: size, smarts and shooting.

Doc Rivers, who coached Gallinari with the Clippers, raved about the staying power of Gallo’s game.

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 6: Danilo Gallinari #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against the New York Knicks on March 6, 2020 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

“It’s funny, everywhere he goes, he just keeps playing, keeps scoring.” And Doc marveled at how he does this without much fanfare. In over a decade of seasons, he’s never been an all-star. Yet he’s averaged 16.2 points per game for his career. He’s 241 points away from 10,000 for his career.

“He’s a quiet assassin.” is how Doc put it.

He’s been through some injuries during the prime years of his career, but at 31, he actually seems to be playing his best basketball. It will be interesting to see what kind of value he has on the open market this summer.