原标题：Jim Paxson: LeBron James is 'underappreciated,' says the man who drafted him
Jim Paxson and LeBron James at the press conference when James was drafted by the Cavaliers. (PD photo)
THEY KNEW HIM WHEN ... Akron native LeBron James is in his 13th NBA season -- ninth with the Cleveland Cavaliers. I talked to some basketball people who knew James at different stages of his career. The stories will appear over several days. Today, Jim Paxson talks about drafting James and his early seasons with the Cavs.
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Jim Paxson remembers the first time he met LeBron James.
"It was right after the (2003) draft lottery," said the former Cavaliers general manager. "We had dinner for him and his family at the arena."
As they shook hands, James looked down at the 6-foot-6 Paxson and said: "You didn't think I was this tall, did you?"
Paxson just laughed.
James was listed at 6-foot-8, but he seemed even taller to Paxson, who had played 12 seasons in the NBA, making two All-Star teams.
And James was only 18.
"He had an NBA body for years," said Paxson. "The first time I saw him play was when he was a sophomore. His (St. Vincent-St. Mary) team was playing someone at Cleveland State. He was so gifted with the size, the strength, the athleticism. But what jumped out at me was his feel for the game.
"LeBron was only 16, and he already that great ability to see the floor, to make the right pass. His basketball acumen and IQ already was incredible."
Paxson paused for a moment, thinking back.
"He was the best high school player I had ever seen," said Paxson. "I can't say the first time I saw him, I knew he'd be one of the NBA's all-time greats. But he had all the tools to be a great player."
THE BIGGEST BREAK
Most Cavalier fans don't know all Paxson did to put the Cavs in position to draft James in 2003. In 2000, Paxson found a way to trade Shawn Kemp to Portland, with the Blazers taking on Kemp's bloated contract of $71 million spread over four years. Kemp had added at least 40 pounds since his days as a star with Seattle.
Paxson also traded star point guard Andre Miller and other productive players before the 2002-03 season. He put a team on the court that finished 17-65, the worst record in the NBA.
It was by design. Paxson was hoping the lottery ping-pong balls bounced exactly right, giving the Cavs the top pick in what would become one of the best drafts in NBA history.
Paxson rated the top players in that draft in this order:
- Carmelo Anthony
- Dwyane Wade
He believed a lousy season would bring at least one of those players to Cleveland. He really liked his top three.
The Cavs couldn't talk to James while he was still playing in high school. Once the lottery took place, then they could interview James.
"I saw a game during his senior year," said Paxson. "His team made a turnover and a guy took off down the court with the ball. He was way ahead of everyone.
"But here came LeBron, he took a couple of long strides and blocked the guy's layup from behind. I was thinking how very few guys in the NBA could make a play like that, and I just saw a high school kid do it."
Paxson was very aware of the challenge and responsibility of making sure James made the right transition to the NBA. He was 18 and worth more than $100 million in endorsement contracts thanks to deals with Nike and other companies.
"I talked to (former Minnesota General Manager) Kevin McHale about what it was like when Kevin Garnett came into the league right from high school," said Paxson. "Yes, it's the money. But it's also the lifestyle -- being 18 years old and around a bunch of men."
Paxson worked with Aaron Goodwin (James' first agent), some people from Nike and LeBron's mother to help the transition. He made an exception of allowing Randy Mims (a close friend of James) to travel with the team, but Paxson cleared it with the veterans first.
"People were always waiting for LeBron everywhere we went," said Paxson. "LeBron never asked for Randy to travel. But we saw how Randy helped LeBron in crowds and with other things. Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) thought it was a good idea because the players wanted to make it work for LeBron. They knew LeBron was not just a normal rookie."
Paxson praised Paul Silas, James' first NBA coach.
"Paul brought structure and accountability," said Paxson. "I remember our first trip to open the season. We lost at Sacramento, Phoenix and Portland. We had some guys late for a bus. LeBron wasn't one of them. But Paul went to the back of the bus, right near LeBron, and began to tell the team how he was not going to accept losing. He expected players to be on time.
"It was a message for the whole group, but he stood near LeBron so the other guys -- and LeBron -- knew he was being held to the same standard. Paul never got the credit he deserved for helping LeBron in those early years."
IS JAMES UNDERAPPRECIATED?
"I don't think most people -- even in the NBA -- fully understand what LeBron is doing for his teams," said Paxson. "He's likely to go to The Finals for the sixth year in a row. That's unbelievable! He's doing it with two different teams."
Paxson is now the Director of Basketball Operations for the Chicago Bulls. He was fired after the 2004-05 season, not long after Dan Gilbert bought the franchise. So he was on the wrong end of Game 4 in the 2015 playoffs when James swished a jumper from the corner to give the Cavs a victory. That tied the series at 2-2, and the Cavs didn't lose another game until they reached the NBA Finals.
"From the moment he made that shot, I knew it was over," said Paxson. "I knew we couldn't beat them in that series. I just knew..."
The Cavs won three in a row against the Bulls, then swept Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals.
"He carried an injured team to the Finals last year," said Paxson. "I watched that and was thinking you could put him on almost any team, surround him with average players -- and he'll get that team to the Finals."
Paxson believes James isn't entirely appreciated because he has only two championship rings.
"I don't think that's fair," said Paxson. "He makes any team so much better. He can figure out what is needed on any given night and do it."
Paxson talked about the ability of James to score, pass, rebound and defend at high levels.
LEARNING TO TRUST
"In Miami, he learned to trust his teammates more," said Paxson. "I see it this year with Cleveland. It's hard for someone that gifted to trust their teammates because the player knows he can do almost anything better than the guys on the court with him.
"I played in Boston with Larry Bird. There were games where Bird would rather take a bad shot than throw a pass to a guy who he thought couldn't make a shot. That shot to Larry was a good shot, even if it looked like a bad shot to us. You need a certain mindset, a little arrogance to play that way."
Paxson raved about the off-court maturity that James has displayed.
"Other than the (ESPN) Decision Show, what mistakes has he really made?" asked Paxson. "He learns from setbacks. He's still very driven to win, and he's on a mission to win in Cleveland. Physically, he has held up -- think of all the minutes he has played with all the trips to The Finals."
James has played more total minutes than any NBA player in the last six seasons, adding in the playoffs.
"I enjoy watching him play," said Paxson. "People sometimes talk to me about how LeBron is a great player. I smile and remind them, 'Hey, I was there when we drafted him!' It's fun to think about that."
[ 此帖被peekaboo72在2016-05-27 07:35修改 ]