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Why having less power than LeBron James was ”the best thing that ever happened to Michael Jordan”

Often it's about the trade you don't (get) to make
Michael Jordan and LeBron James had different levels of influence on front office decisions

Michael Jordan and LeBron James had different levels of influence on front office decisions

As much as he tried to deflect it, LeBron James can't escape the responsibility for the colossal failure that is the Lakers '21/'22 season. In the eternal MJ vs. LeBron debate, this will turn out to be one of the most essential points in MJ's favor - his lack of power compared to LeBron. 

The trade you don't make

Almost every successful GM will tell you their best trades are often the ones they decide not to make. Constructing an NBA roster is a full-time job - that's why the Head Coach/GM attempts by Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy, and Tom Thibodeau were all failures. It's not just that you don't have enough hours in the day, but there's an inherent conflict of interest between the positions. 

Coaches want to win now (preferably with players they like); GMs have to consider the future (and don't mind if a talented player will make the coach's job a bit more difficult.) In that regard, players are similar to coaches. They want to win now, and who cares about your 2027 pick. 

Bomani Jones recently said something that encapsulated a point of view that resonates with me. One of the things that lifted Michael Jordan to GOAT status was the trade he didn't make, or more precisely, didn't get to make. 

Let me tell you who clearly did not have control of his front office - Michael Jordan, and it is maybe the best thing that ever happened to him. Otherwise, it'd just been a squad of his partners and dudes that went to UNC that wouldn't have necessarily been any good. 

Bomani Jones, The Ringer NBA Show

I covered this fact in detail yesterday, quoting a selection of moments when Jordan pushed Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson to trade for, or draft players connected to his agent (today known as pulling a Klutch) or that went to UNC. In almost all of them, Krause turned out to be right and MJ wrong. 

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Comparing LeBron to MJ, Jones acknowledged that post-Miami, LeBron's destinations were greatly impacted for narrative/lifestyle purposes. He went to the Cavs and the Lakers - two organizations not known for stellar ownership.

LeBron went back to Cleveland cause he wanted to be back home and all of that, went to the Lakers cause he wanted to be in LA. But he also bet on two organizations that are run by bums, two poorly run organizations. The Lakers not nearly like the Cavs, but when you hear people talk about the Lakers 'Oh, that's a family business,' that's a nice way of saying they're cheap. Jerry Buss was out here flying Southwest to the day he died. 

Bomani Jones, The Ringer NBA Show

Winning vs. winning on their own terms

If GMs talk about the trade they don't make, coaches talk about players willing to be coached. A lot of guys say they are willing to do whatever to win - what they actually mean is they are willing to do whatever to win that they like doing. 

Try asking James Harden to play all-out defense, set screens, and dive for loose balls. Is he really willing to do "whatever it takes?" Any indication Russell Westbrook is ready not to be the star at the end of the game, and yet again, play defense and set screens? If I were more cynical, I'd say the fact defense and setting screens don't get you on the highlight reel has something to do with it. 

The same can be said about LeGM. Winning wasn't enough - he had to win his way, and with having so much power, it meant getting his way on and off the court. LeBron was in the perfect place to build a dynasty, but he would then have to share the credit with others.

Not being as good as Michael Jordan is not an insult, but the best chance to getting to the 6 [titles] was staying in Miami because Pat Riley is the person that would've been most likely to figure out a way to keep this thing rolling. 

Bomani Jones, The Ringer NBA Show

Jones threw in Durant as the latest example of someone who was in the perfect spot to win a lot in Golden State but opted to go to Brooklyn. “I think we're gonna look at a few guys and be like 'Did you really make the right play for yourself, just because you could make this other play that was a flex?'”

Sometimes you have to be lucky, and for Michael Jordan, he was lucky enough to play in an era where GMing was left to the GMs. That's why he played with Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoč, and Steve Kerr, and not Johnny Dawkins, Walter Davis, or Buck Williams. 

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