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The Bill Russell Case for LeBron as Lakers Player-Coach

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“You want the job, Russ?” offered Celtics retiring head coach Red Auerbach in 1966.

“Hell, no!” Bill Russell responded.

“After what I watched you go through? Screwing with the referees, the timekeepers, writers, fans, all that stress,” wrote Russell in Red and Me.“I don’t want any part of that!”

Russell would eventually take the job as player-coach for his last three seasons, and win two titles despite an aging Celtics roster, and an unfamiliar role as underdogs.

When the idea for LeBron as player-coach comes up for similar reasons as Russell, the most common initial response is similarly some variation of “hell no.” On an ESPN show, with Jay Williams, Max Kellerman and Keyshawn Johnson, a caller suggested LeBron was “the perfect coach” for the Lakers ‘right in front of your nose”.

While Williams called the idea “a trainwreck”, Max disagreed. “I actually like that idea,” said Kellerman. “It eliminates a big problem for the Lakers. You could have a player-coach, why not?”

Yes, “why not?”

Williams objected to the added workload and autonomy and added: “This is not the 1960s with Bill Russell.”

But why can’t it be?

LeBron’s former teammate Javale McGee also likes the idea.

“I used to hear things like Bill Russell was a player-coach, and I was like, ‘How are you a player-coach?’” asked McGee in an appearance on Club Shay Shay with Shannon Sharpe last September. “‘How is that a thing?’ But after going to the Lakers, I understand how a player could be a player-coach.”

There is also loose evidence some people in the Lakers leadership circles have considered the idea. On his On the Ball podcast, Ric Bucher elaborated on a text he received in November:

“What it said is that it has been suggested to Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ governor and majority owner, that LeBron take over as player-coach.” While Bucher couldn’t say the level of seriousness with which the suggestion was taken, he added that he’d “love to see it happen if [for] nothing else than the spectacle and the historic value of it.”

Those are two great points for NBA media and fans. There’s a third reason. Like Russell, LeBron as player-coach can likely give the Lakers their very best chance to win another championship.

Here are four reasons why.

1. LeBron already IS a player-coach

When injured or resting, LeBron can often be seen coaching from the sideline, but Javale McGee explained how LeBron is also a coach on the court:

“When LeBron plays the games, he’s thinking the game too and he’s low-key thinking for two other players also,” said McGee. “Like, ‘Oh, you need to be there, and you need to be there, we need to do this if we’re gonna win this series, we need to change this.’ And he’s a major part of that. So I definitely think he’s more of a player-coach than just a player when it comes to just the cerebral part of the game.”

LeBron’s cerebral part of the game is aided by a photographic memory. Both former coaches and players rave about LeBron as a basketball genius.

“It’s unbelievable,” said former Cavs teammate Iman Shumpert. “You talk about somebody who knows the playbook, knows where everybody is supposed to be, knows the other team coaches’ playbook and style of coaching. LeBron is one of them.”

LeBron’s mind is this generation’s Bill Russell. Former Knick, Rhodes Scholar, and Senator Bill Bradley calls Russell “the smartest player ever to play the game.”

Giving LeBron full control simply extends that coaching autonomy, and reduces conflicts in strategy. LeBron likely has three good years left, the same as Russell in 1966.

2. LeBron would have 10 times more in-game coach support than Russell ever had

On ESPN, Jay Williams expressed concern about LeBron’s added workload while chasing championships.

Both Auerbach and Russell had the same exact concern at first. They felt the player-coach model compromised the player and the coach, so it was not the first option.

Auerbach had promised Russell he wouldn’t hire any coach without his “100 percent approval”, and both men initially preferred hiring past retired Celtics, but for various reasons, Bob Cousy, Frank Ramsey, and Tommy Heinsohn all declined the job. After Russell rejected a couple of Auerbach-suggested head coach names from outside the organization, Russell accepted the offer.

The “double-duty” workload concern is not new. What is new are assistant coaches in the NBA.

In 2022, Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel had eight of them, including two former head coaches.

In 1966, Coach Russell had none.

And early on, it showed. While adjusting to his new role, Russell made early coaching mistakes that would make Skip Bayless’ head explode if it were LeBron today.

In his very first game, Russell forgot to sub out an exhausted K. C. Jones, who played 46 minutes. The Celtics still won. In another close game, he accidentally left out John Havlicek and Sam Jones in the fourth quarter. Even Sam Jones, Russell’s career-long Hall-of-Fame running mate, expressed his concerns about the player-coach concept: “When you’ve got to play Wilt Chamberlain,” said Jones, “you’ve got to have your mind on playing him and nothing else.”

Coach Russell made adjustments. By midseason, he appointed Havlicek as Team Captain and made him a de facto Assistant Coach to help with in-game decisions.

In Russell’s first year as coach, 1966-67, the Celtics would still win 60 games, but ultimately lost to Wilt Chamberlain’s 68-win 76ers, one of the NBA’s greatest teams of all time. No shame there.

Coach LeBron would have no shortage of assistant coaches to delegate specific responsibilities and general substitution patterns before games are even played. If Coach LeBron wants to deviate from those patterns based on game flow, then he can. He already often does. This time it would be with full assigned authority.

3. Bill Russell is the only useful player-coach comparison for LeBron James

NBA Player-Coaches have gone the way of the dinosaur, and it’s easy to understand why.

In the 1960’s, Hall of Fame Players such as Richie Guerin, Dolph Shayes, and Bob Cousy (Cincinnati Royals, 1969), all became veteran player-coaches, but were mostly shells of their former selves. The NBA’s Player-Coach Era was mostly unsuccessful because those players couldn’t coach themselves to be five years younger. If your player-coach is a replaceable role player, it just makes more sense to just have a full-time coach instead.

As a veteran player-coach, only Lenny Wilkens still played at a high level (Sonics 1969-1972), but was given a 30-win roster, which improved all three years as player-coach.

Bill Russell’s situation was unique. Even an older, injury-plagued Russell could still dominate.

In his final season at age 35, Russell averaged 19.3 rebounds, good for third in the NBA and ahead of far younger Hall of Fame centers like Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed, and Walt Bellamy.

It’s not about “the 1960’s” or “the 2020’s”, player-coaches are usually a bad idea in any era.

Bill Russell was an exception then, and LeBron is an exception now.

4. The Russell-coached Celtics won two titles in his last two years — despite being underdogs

The greatest Bill Russell player-coach case for LeBron is that he won his final two seasons, on an aging team that never won their own division.

Russell’s Championship Celtics in 1968 and 1969 weren’t the Auerbach-Russell Celtics of 1957—1966.

Gone was the perennial luxury of the most dominant roster, and past Hall of Fame teammates like Cousy, Bill Sharman, Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones. Russell and Sam Jones were now in their mid-thirties leaving Havlicek as their only younger star.

Even still, the 1968 Celtics were the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit (Wilt’s 76ers) on the way to the title.

“Sportswriters would later consider Boston’s come-from-behind triumph over Philadelphia to be one of the greatest accomplishments of the Celtics dynasty,” writes John Taylor in ‘The Rivalry’. “In the Herald-Traveler, Tim Horgan called it ‘more surprising than an American winning the [Boston] marathon.’”

The 1969 Celtics arguably pulled off an even greater run beating three teams who had home-court advantage culminating in a 7-game upset of the Wilt-Jerry West-Elgin Baylor Lakers.

It is hard to imagine that these Celtics win these titles with any other new coach than Bill Russell.

The Lakers should pay attention to history because if an elder LeBron, a healthy Anthony Davis (enter punchline here), and key off-season roster additions have any chance to win another title, they will also do it the hard way as underdogs. They’d need to maximize their veteran savvy, smarts, and every strategic advantage to manipulate playoff match-ups against younger stronger teams.

And the most qualified coach on the planet to pull that off is LeBron James.

He will be 38 years old next year, and there is no more time for new coach experimentations.

The Lakers would have to make an offer, and LeBron would have to accept it.

Perhaps both parties can learn from those Celtics.

In Red and Me, Russell cited his own change of heart after his initial “Hell no!”

“I thought it through and concluded that I had Red over a barrel and shouldn’t leave him in that position. So I called him up and said, ‘Okay, Red. I’ll take the job.’

“He said, ‘You made the right choice. Who better to motivate Bill Russell than Bill Russell?’

Who better to motivate LeBron James than LeBron James?



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Malo Gusto transfer news: Chelsea agree £26.3m deal for Lyon right-back with player returning to France on loan | Football News

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Chelsea have reached an agreement in principle with Lyon for the signing of right-back Malo Gusto.

The west London side have agreed to pay £26.3m plus add-ons for the services of the 19-year-old, who will join the club in the summer.

Lyon head coach Laurent Blanc said that the board had guaranteed to him that Gusto would stay at the club for the rest of the season.

“The board have guaranteed to me that (Rayan) Cherki and Malo Gusto will be here until the end of the season,” Blanc told reporters on Friday.

The statement echoed the thoughts of president Jean-Michel Aulas Aulas who took to social media and declared Gusto would continue with the French giants beyond this transfer window.

But it appears the club has bowed down to the player’s wishes and while Chelsea have agreed the deal, Gusto will now be loaned back to Lyon for the remainder of this campaign.

GRAPHIC

Chelsea wanted a deal now as they are aware other clubs – such as Manchester United and Tottenham – are interested in the France U21 international.

Reece James has played just once for Chelsea since October 11 due to a knee injury, with the sole appearance – against Bournemouth last month – seeing him aggravate the issue and return to the sidelines.

The England international also missed several months of the 2021/22 season with a hamstring injury.

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The Transfer Show’s Dharmesh Sheth and Kaveh Solhekol round up the latest transfer news from all 20 Premier League clubs.

Chelsea are determined to sign a midfielder and right-back this month, despite already spending almost £500m on new players this season.

The Blues have signed 16 players since Todd Boehly’s consortium purchased the club last summer, but remain keen to add to head coach Graham Potter’s squad during the January window.

Enzo Fernandez is still a target and Chelsea are considering making a new bid for the Benfica and Argentina midfielder.

How much have Chelsea spent in January so far?

Chelsea have splashed the cash under Todd Boehly
Image:
Chelsea have splashed the cash under Todd Boehly

Chelsea’s January spending has risen to £190m now the Noni Madueke signing has been completed.

Here are the deals the Blues have made:

  • Benoit Badiashile – Monaco, £35m
  • David Datro Fofana – Molde, undisclosed (reported £10m deal)
  • Andrey Santos – Vasco da Gama, undisclosed (reported £18m deal)
  • Joao Felix – Atletico Madrid, £9.7m loan
  • Mykhailo Mudryk – Shakhtar Donetsk, £88.5m
  • Noni Madueke – PSV Eindhoven

Chelsea have now spent around £460m since Todd Boehly became the new owner of the club, having spent £270m in the summer transfer window.

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move this winter? The January transfer window closes at 11pm on Tuesday January 31, 2023.

Keep up to date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.



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Women’s leagues WNBA, etc. have ushered in sports’ golden age

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Image for article titled A rising tide lift all boats and it's time we threw Jason Whitlock’s ilk overboard

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Choosing between women’s and men’s sports is a false choice. If you’re a certain blogger for Glenn Beck’s conservative Blaze media, revisionist history can be a comfort zone that vilifies feminism in sports as your woke sports boogeyman, but makes you look like a headass instead. Jason Whitlock’s resentment-driven tweet on women’s basketball’s place at the bottom of the sports hierarchy eventually led to a longer missive against women’s societal advancements and the fall of masculinity.

Oddly enough, in a link I don’t care to share, Whitlock proceeded to blame feminism for everything ranging from drag queens, to the degradation of the nuclear family, and the decline of biblical values. In Whitlock’s opinion, the glass ceiling wasn’t sturdy enough.

He pontificated in his Wednesday column: “As technology advanced and curbed the natural hardships of basic survival, American men led the world in granting freedom and autonomy to women. Feminists have taken advantage of man’s instinct to please women, casting themselves as long-suffering victims of male supremacy, and reshaped American society into a culture that favors the weaker sex.”

In fairness to Whitlock, let’s analyze all the excellent points he made.

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Hold on a second. I read the entire screed. Something will squeeze out soon…

Whitlock spews more garbage

He did attempt to trace a crooked link between modern society and early man’s roles as hunter-gathers, but it doubled as a rant against evolution. Imagine beginning your argument for a return to medieval masculinity by bemoaning women’s sports on TV. As usual, the intellectual cupboard is bare. Whitlock’s fragility over women’s sports is indicative of the obstacles women in workplaces have always faced. For a contingent of dudes who take his word as gospel though, women’s sports are their bête noire.

Battling over an alternate view of history that makes a case for how sexism was good or opining that the women from the Greatest Generation who took occupations in defense plants and factories during the war effort of the 1940s defanged American culture is a fascinating insight into how a twisted mind justifies itself. Don’t give yourself hemorrhoids trying to mine wisdom from those thought turds, and never roll with a pig in his sty.

Women’s leagues have helped usher in sports’ golden age

If you’ve browsed the front page of Deadspin’s space lately, or any industry leaders like Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, or Yahoo Sports, you’d know the myth of the feminist agenda pushing men’s sports aside is a pile of crap. America’s Big 4 leagues, plus NASCAR, Formula 1, college football, and college basketball have reigned supreme since being given a 50 to 75-year year head start over organized women’s athletics.

In a few short months, the U.S. Women’s National Team will defend their World Cup so you can expect to see their faces plastered all over ESPN screens between now and then. The USWNT has won half of the first eight Women’s World Cups FIFA’s held, but had to grapple with U.S. Soccer for pay commensurate with men last year. Their decades-long push was reminiscent of Billie Jean King and the “Original Nine’s” early enterprising. Their revolutionary founding of the WTA is one of the impetus for women’s tennis being on a more equal footing with the men’s tour.

The most prominent leagues have had to share space in an increasingly crowded room (pickleball has entered the chat), but this is the golden age of live sports. The continued growth of women’s leagues has been nearly as monumental as streaming has been to prestige television. The only downside to the panoply of options at our disposal is the paradox of choice.

Dawn Staley and Kim Mulkey are college basketball titans

Today men’s college basketball is in a rut. It’s as rife with parity, as it is empty in name-brand, blue-chip talent, or upper-echelon teams. The inverse of men’s hoops’ suboptimal tornado of middle-of-the-road teams, is happening in the division where Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks are cruising toward a repeat. Fans love dynasties and one may be building in Columbia.

UConn is still a threat on Feb. 5, however, its biggest obstacle resides within the SEC.

Kim Mulkey and Staley have taken the baton as college basketball’s preeminent rivalry. The juiciest storyline in college basketball, regardless of gender, is the upcoming tilt between the only undefeated teams left in the nation. Hopefully, someone informs Alfalfa’s He-Man Womun Haters club not to switch on the late-night SportsCenter shows on the night of Feb. 18.

The halcyon yesteryear of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry is long gone in the Vols’ post-Pat Summitt era. Even with former Naismith Player of the Year Paige Bueckers on the mend for the entire season and phenom Azzi Fudd in and out of the lineup, UConn has been firmly entrenched in the top 10. Tennessee is still on the road back to prominence under Kellie Harper and was promptly smacked down by the Huskies on Thursday night.

While we’re on that note, contrary to the Blaze TV blogger’s soliloquy about women’s advancements coming off the backs of men’s work, the infrastructure for modern women’s basketball was originally built by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. At its peak, the AIAW’s membership consisted of 280 colleges that held championships across 19 sports, including women’s hoops. The AIAW was a women’s collegiate sports organization founded by women, but in 1981, the NCAA took over from the AIAW after 120 schools left for the more economically advantaged NCAA.

Breanna Stewart’s free agency

Over in the WNBA, free agency is in full bloom. Candace Parker is vacillating on whether to wind her career down in Chicago or with one last hurrah in Los Angeles. Free agent center Brionna Jones, the reigning Sixth Player of the Year, is essentially seeking to branch out after her second Finals appearance. Think of a bigger James Harden in 2012, trying to loosen himself from Oklahoma City’s bench.

The bulk of WNBA free agency attention is trained on Breanna Stewart’s movements. Reportedly, Stewart has whittled her choice down to approximately four teams, including her home state New York Liberty, a pairing with Elena Delle Donne in Washington, running it back with a depleted Seattle Storm roster, or zagging unexpectedly to the Minnesota Lynx.

There’s no planned primetime TV special starring Jim Gray, or Hannah Storm for the internet Whitlocks to carp about, but the Liberty are what everyone in the league office is undoubtedly rooting for. Imagine if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had chosen the Knicks in 2010. Or if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden had been a more well-adjusted collection of personalities. Stewart linking up with 2020’s No. 1 overall pick, Sabrina Ionescu, recently acquired 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, and free agent Courtney Vandersloot would be the culmination of an arms race with the Las Vegas Aces.

In addition to looking out for her own future, Stewart is using her clout to engineer solutions to funding charter flights for the league’s 12 teams. Stewart’s efforts have reignited the discourse around the WNBA’s problematic travel arrangements. We’ve long known that cramming long athletes onto commercial flights dozens of times a season is a hindrance to peak performance, but the WNBA hasn’t quite taken it to heart yet and Stewart’s not keen on waiting until the CBA expires in 2028 to address it.

Ultimately, for every sports fan with Whitlock’s attitude, there’s Kobe Bryant. Kobe and others understood that a rising tide lifts all boats. In his final years, Kobe became an advocate for women’s hoops. Then, three years and a day ago, he perished on his way to coach his daughter’s AAU team. But if you’re having trouble choosing between living in a shared reality where the Black Mamba’s noblesse oblige spirit is considered ruinous to culture or one where internet Whitlocks signify strength, your worldview is bass-ackwards and you’ve got your head on the wrong side of your torso.



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Pep Guardiola jokes he’s ‘sorry’ that he stopped Mikel Arteta from becoming Manchester City manager

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Arsenal will face City at the Etihad Stadium tonight, with Guardiola’s former assistant back on his old North West stomping ground in the FA Cup fourth round.

The Gunners head north leading rivals City by five points with a game in hand atop the Premier League, but acutely aware of the challenging taking on the frustrated Guardiola and company.

Arteta left Guardiola’s City setup in December 2019 to take the Arsenal helm, transforming the Gunners in remarkable fashion since.

“I am pretty sure if I would have left here before, he would be here [at City] and he would be the best, absolutely,” said Guardiola, of Arteta.

“But I extended my contract, I am sorry, and he didn’t wait, so it could not happen. But definitely it could have.”

Arteta joined Manchester City’s coaching ranks on retiring as a player in 2016, learning his craft under master tactician and serial winner Guardiola.

City’s former Barcelona boss revealed how Arteta would never celebrate goals against the Gunners, the team he represented more than 100 times between 2011 and 2016.

“He loves the club; I remember when we were together here and we scored goals, he jumped a lot and celebrated – except with one team,” said Guardiola.

“One team, every time we score a goal, I jump, look back and he was sitting there. It was Arsenal.”



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