5-at-10: Is LeBron done? Should divisions be done, Freeman continues to rock Braves

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James shoots against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Final series Monday, May 22, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Was that the end?

Yes, the Nuggets' rally for a Game 4 win Monday night was the end of the Lakers season. Denver swept Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals so that is the end of LeBron's season.

And while LeBron and the Lakers were in every game, it's kind of impossible to see, considering the edges in depth and the talent Denver possessed, Los Angeles winning that series if they played 10 best-of-sevens, you know?

So it's the end of 2023 for LeBron; but is 2023 the end for King James?

He hinted as such after last night's playoffs-ending loss. Yes, he has been clear that he would love to play in the NBA with his son Bronny. And that's at least 18 months away. And yes, LeBron is fond of the drama, so his chatter last night could be part of that.

But James has secured his spot atop the all-time scoring list, and has etched his name among the all-time all-timers. And last night he candidly said he has a lot to think about, because unless he's willing to change teams — again — it's hard to see how these Lakers could or will improve enough to be anything more than a fringe title contender next season either.

Which brings us back to whether LeBron will come back, and frankly, whether he should come back.

Yes another title would be nice on the resumé, but in most ways the GOAT conversations are so galvanized that LeBron winning title No. 5 would not change much. People are firmly either in LeBron's corner or in MJ's corner when it comes to the best ever discussion.

I think there are so many more layers to that narrative than most, however.

For instance, I never understood everyone banging the drum on "MJ went 6-0 in NBA Finals" story, since the facts should point, if you didn't win the whole thing, shouldn't getting to the Finals — LeBron went 4-6 in the Finals — be viewed as better than losing in the semis or the quarters?

Also, the 'LeBron needed help/ring chasing' stuff is a convenient spin considering the changes in player movement and attitude, as well as forgetting the simple truth that if the Sonics don't trade Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice or the Buills don't land Phil Jackson, MJ could have been a super-charged George Gervin.

But I also think the GOAT argument carries a lot of team success with it, and that's fine, and I think MJ is the GOAT. Like I think Tom Brady is the GOAT.

So maybe the BOAT — Best of all time — discussion would be more apropos, because I think Peyton was a better QB than Brady. Kind of like LeBron in some regards.

So if this is for LeBron James, well, wow, what a career.

And while the semantics of the GOAT/BOAT debate can be bickered about, I will offer this that I truly believe:

No player in team sports history with the possible exception of Lew Alcinder/Kareem Abdul Jabbar was ever lifted on such a pedestal at such a young age and completely delivered beyond even the wildest expectations the masses created for them.

And whether you like LeBron or loathe him, that's truly amazing, especially in a social media age that MJ got to avoid.

Standings conundrum

So, you know our rules around here.

When Paschall writes college football, we pass it along. And when it comes to baseball, the season is long and you have to trust it, which means there's not a lot of good to come from glancing at the standings until you get to the -er months, as in September and October.

Sure, like golf tournaments, you can kill your chances with a terrible start in the opening rounds, but you can't really win anything until the end.

We offer that caveat because of a very real anomaly happening in Major League Baseball as we sit here less than a week from Memorial Day, which traditionally serves as the ⅓ of the way through the season mark for baseball.

In the AL, every team in the East would either be in first or tied for first in the Central as of this morning. The Twins lead the Central at 25-23; Toronto is last in the East at 25-23. Moreover, if you look at competitive gaps, the divide is even greater, as The Athletic noted that the combined run differential for the five East teams is plus-218 while the Central five are at minus-170.

Yes, it's early, but the balanced schedule across all divisions could make that gap more sustainable this year than in most seasons.

In truth, the same thing could happen in the NFC this year, where the East has three of the top teams in the conference, and the South has four of the bottom 10 teams across all of football.

I like divisions. It keeps more teams in contention and that's a good thing for the majority of fan bases. In the AL right now, Minnesota views itself as a playoff team; in the NFC, Atlanta and the rest of the fan bases in the South can say "Why not us?" when it comes to winning a division and making the playoffs.

If each conference was pooled together, the Twins would be truly wondering if they should be buyers or sellers this summer, mired in a tie for eighth with Toronto in the 15-team AL that offers seven playoff bids.

But would division-less leagues be more fair? Discuss. (Hey, we got a long way until the -er months people.)

Yeah, enough

Hey, I like Freddie Freeman too. Heck, I wanted the Braves to re-sign him. Badly.

To be honest, I grew up a Dodgers fan — still am — and am overjoyed that Freeman is flashing his Gold Glove and his still-quick lumber in Dodgers blue.

But, here's betting for all the warm and fuzzy feel good storylines Freeman represents to a lot of the Braves fans, the standing Os are about to become less common.

Freeman got a huge ovation before his first AB in Los Angeles' 8-6 win over Atlanta. In an unintentional tribute to the Braves home crowd, Freeman struck out.

Then, he continued to torch his former team and especially former teammate Charlie Morton. Freeman doubled in his next AB against Morton and then laced a game-changing three-run homer against the Braves right-hander a couple of innings later.

In just seven regular-season games against his former team, Freeman is slashing .393/.485/.786 with 10 RBIs and seven runs scored.

And his destruction of Morton is even more pronounced, as Freeman is 10-of-18 with three homers and three doubles against the Braves starting pitcher.

It also comes at a time when the Braves offense — other than Ronald Acuña, Eddie Rosario and even Marcel Ozuna — is finding a rough spot of late.

Which makes the struggles of Matt Olson — the guy four years young who got the monster contract the Braves were unwilling to give Freeman — of late even more pronounced.

Olson's power numbers have been fine — he has 13 homers and 35 RBIs, but hitting with Acuña on base that frequently should get Olson well north of 100 ribbies — but his strikeout rate is so alarming even Dave Kingman and Rob Deer are concerned.

Olson is on pace to whiff 240 times, and he is just 16-of-73 (.219) with 24 Ks in May. In fact, from late April to last Monday, Olson had at least one strikeout in 17 straight games.


He may never be Freddie, and that's OK. Few are or ever will be.

But it's past time for the commemorative standing O for Mr. Freeman at this point right? Especially if he is going to continue to torch his former mates.

This and that

— We mentioned Glen Kuiper earlier this month when the former A's announcer was suspended for saying the N-word over the air, mistakenly using that slur instead of using the proper term in the title of a reference to baseball's Negro League Hall of Fame. To the surprise of almost no one, Kuiper has now been officially fired.

— So the Plays had you covered Monday. Nuggets getting points. Check. Dodgers getting plus odds on the moneyline. Check. Freddie Freeman continuing to haunt Charlie Morton and going over 1.5 total bases. Check. At least one run in the first inning of Dodgers-Braves. Check again. Good times.

— Republican South Carolina Senator Tim Scott announced his intention to seek the party's nomination to run for President in 2024. I am encouraged by his announcement; heck I wrote him in as my vote in 2020. But if Vegas was laying odds on the GOP nomination, Scott is, what, 10000-to-1?

— MLB's rule changes have not only made the game quicker and more watchable on TV, it's impacting turnstiles too. Here's a story that across the sport, the weekend series in the 15 locales last weekend (May 19-21) drew more than 1.5 million fans, which is a six-year high for any cumulative April or May weekend.

Today's questions

True or false, it's Tuesday. Have a great day Ern.

True or false, LeBron will retire.

True or false, LeBron is the BOAT (not the GOAT, the BOAT; see above).

True or false, you are tired of Freddie Freeman getting a standing O and then killing the Braves.

True or false, team sports should do away with divisions.

True or false, the NBA Finals of Nuggets-Heat will be the least-watched of all time.

True or false, you are following Jay's Plays. (If not why not?)

You know the drill. Answer some T or Fs, leave some T or Fs.

As for today, May 23, let's review.

On this day in 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were killed.

"The Shining" hit theaters on this day in 1980. Stephen King is an all-timer right? Wow what a catalog.

Buck Showalter is 67 today. Does he make the Rushmore of 'Buck' gang?