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NBA AM: Former Players Turned Owners

LeBron James wants to own an NBA franchise someday, joining the list of former players-turned-owners…

Joel Brigham

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Earlier this week, LeBron James reappeared for the first time since agreeing to his three-year, $100 million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers to guest-star on Uninterrupted’s “Open Run” podcast and talk about a number of things, including what he sees for his life after basketball.

In that interview, James admitted that when he does retire from the game – likely at some point over the course of the next decade – he’d like to look into at least partial ownership of an NBA team.

“I would love to be a part of a franchise, if not at the top,” James said. “My dream is to actually own a team.”

There won’t be much stopping him, as James is the most prodigious active earner both in terms of annual salary and endorsement contracts, and while he likely never will be able to piece together the $3+ billion he’ll need to buy a team all on his own 10 years from now, he’s got more than enough to buy into a minority stake. Frankly, there aren’t many teams that wouldn’t love to have him as a figurehead of the franchise, and his desire to move into an ownership position is far from unprecedented.

The following are a list of players who have bought teams (or parts of teams, rather) in the years following their retirements. Seeing an NBA player actually own a piece of an NBA team is rare, but plenty of big-name stars have bought franchises in a number of different sports:

LeBron James, Liverpool FC – James may truly long for a piece of NBA ownership somewhere down the road, but his active status as an NBA player hasn’t stopped him from getting into sports team ownership in other arenas. He already owns a small stake of Liverpool FC, one of the most popular soccer clubs in the Champions League.

In April of 2011, James teamed up with Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Boston Red Sox, after they had purchased the team for $488 million in October of 2010. James got his mitts on a minority stake in the FC, marking the first time that a professional athlete in his prime invested in a sports franchise with the popularity and breadth of Liverpool. He remains a minority owner to this day and is doing quite well with his investment. Getting a stake in an NBA team would only broaden his horizons as a business mogul.

Michael Jordan, Charlotte Hornets – Of course, the king of all basketball business moguls is Michael Jordan, who became majority owner of the then-Charlotte Bobcats for $275 million back in 2010. He had been a minority investor dating back to 2006, but when former owner Bob Johnson couldn’t justify bleeding tens of millions of dollars every year, he sold it to the state of North Carolina’s most famous basketball icon.

Jordan assumed $150 million in debt in the transaction, but considering the most recent Forbes valuation for the team was $750 million, it looks like His Airness already has made a rather significant return on his investment. The Hornets are the fifth-least valuable team in the league, but they’re already exponentially more valuable than they were six years ago when Jordan bought the team.

Shaquille O’Neal, Sacramento Kings – The only other former NBA player to own any part of an NBA team is O’Neal, who threw in a fair chunk of change as part of the investment group that purchased the Sacramento Kings from the Maloofs in 2013. According to Forbes, O’Neal only owns between two-to-four percent of the team. It wasn’t a huge investment, but the value of the team already has jumped from $534 million at the time of sale a few years ago to over $800 million in Forbes’ most recent estimate for the team. The math says that O’Neal has made somewhere in the neighborhood $5 million to $11 million in just a few years without having had to do much, so while some believe his ownership investment was mostly a PR stunt to help get a new arena built in Sacramento, he really has raked in a little easy cash to supplement his TV checks.

Magic Johnson, L.A. Dodgers – Arguably the most successful team owner on this list, Johnson was a major player in the group that purchased the L.A. Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion back in the spring of 2012. Magic “only” put in $50 million of that money, but he’s been a figurehead for the organization and has been vital in recruiting free agents despite his relatively meager stake in the team, which would only equate to about 2.3 percent ownership. Even still, he’s the only former NBA player to ever own any stake in a Major League Baseball team, and for him to further endear himself to the City of Los Angeles will do nothing to hurt his legacy as arguably the most beloved athlete that city has ever known.

Yao Ming, Shanghai Sharks – Occasionally, former players invest in professional teams outside of the United States, as well, which Yao proved when he seized the opportunity to play for his former pro team in China, the Shanghai Sharks. Yao actually grew up in Shanghai, so when news began to leak that a few failing seasons (both financially and on the court) might cause the organization to fold, he stepped in and rescued them from ruin. As of 2008, Yao was ranked as the wealthiest Chinese entertainer with tens of millions of dollars to his name, so purchasing the team that gave him his start as a pro probably felt like as safe an investment as anything. He still spends a lot of time with the team as a figurehead for the organization, and he’s helped bring in big names too. Gilbert Arenas, Michael Beasley, Delonte West and John Lucas III have played for Shanghai since Yao took over.

Tony Parker, ASVEL  – Like Yao Ming, Tony Parker decided to become the owner of a team from his home country. Parker first bought a 20 percent stake in ASVEL back in 2009, and then he decided to suit up with the team in 2011 during the NBA lockout. This led to Parker becoming the majority shareholder in 2014 and eventually take on the role of president as well. At 34 years old, Parker is likely nearing the end of his NBA career; however, his shares and role with ASVEL ensure that he stick around the sport for many years to come even when his playing days are over.

Amar’e Stoudemire, Hapoel Jerusalem – One fun fact about Stoudemire is that he’s part Hebrew on his mother’s side, and in 2010 he took a pilgrimage to Israel to get in touch with his roots a little bit and see the extensive religious history there. He was affected enough by his experiences to team up with Ori Allon to purchase a professional basketball team in Jerusalem back in 2013, and it’s something he enjoyed quite a bit until this past summer when he retired from the NBA, sold his shares to Allon, and agreed to actually play for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2016. That means he’s not currently an owner of the team, but one gets the sense that as soon as he’s finished playing Allon will be happy to get him involved once again on the ownership side of things. The more a big name like Stoudemire is present around a small-time team like that, the better it is for business.

Steve Nash, Vancouver Whitecaps, RCD Mallorca – While Nash hasn’t shown much interest for ownership in basketball franchises, he does actually own stakes in not one but two professional soccer clubs. He started with his share of the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer back in 2005, which came as part of a group of investors that also included Jeff Mallett, Steve Luczko and Greg Kerfoot.

Then, more recently, he and Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver pitched in to purchase Spanish football club Real Mellarco for a shade over $21 million. They had tried to purchase Levante a year earlier but failed, but men driven to spend their money will find a way to do so. Now Nash, a well-known die-hard soccer fan, gets to enjoy ownership of a soccer club not just in his native country but also overseas.

Jamal Mashburn, Ol Memorial Horse Stable – While it’s not quite the same as owning a sports franchise, Mashburn and former University of Kentucky coach Rick Pitino are partners in owning Ol Memorial Stable, which did at one point serve as the home of a Kentucky derby hopeful that went by the name of Buffalo Man.

Mashburn is a great example of how NBA players can have successful entrepreneurial lives after basketball. Today he owns 37 Papa John’s restaurants, 34 Outback Steakhouse restaurants, two car dealerships and a real estate company. Like everyone else on this list, he’s putting his playing checks to good use in life after hoops.

***

Should James someday earn a small stake in the Cavaliers or some other random franchise for sale, he’ll join the very small ranks of former NBA players that managed to eventually own an NBA team. So far, it’s just Jordan and Shaq, but there’s no reason King James couldn’t join that list as a way to enjoy his retirement.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players

Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.

Mike Yaffe

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The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.

But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.

The Top Dogs

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).

To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.

Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.

With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.

While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.

Solid Potential

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.

Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.

D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.

Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.

Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.

The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.

Best of the Rest

Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.

Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.

Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.

Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.

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