- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- LeBron James welcomes the New Jersey Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the NBA, and said that he never intended to advocate contraction in recent comments he made about the league's "watered down" talent level compared to the 1980s.
"That's crazy, because I had no idea what the word 'contraction' meant before I saw it on the Internet," James said after the Miami Heat's practice Monday. "I never even mentioned that. That word never even came out of my mouth. I was just saying how the league was back in the '80s and how it could be good again. I never said, 'Let's take some of the teams out.' "
James found himself Monday in a position of yet again having to clarify some controversial comments. On Thursday, he told reporters before the Heat's game against the Phoenix Suns that he would like to see more stars playing together instead of them being spread out throughout the league.
He also made specific references to the Nets and Timberwolves, including promising forward Kevin Love, in reference to the number of premier players toiling along with struggling teams. James was portrayed in some reports as advocating contraction and the loss of NBA jobs at a time when the league and players' association are haggling over a new collective bargaining agreement.
James, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, said he was speaking only in hypothetical terms when he suggested what it might be like to remove Love, the league's leading rebounder, from the struggling Timberwolves, or to see some of the Nets' better players on teams that could contend for a championship.
"Imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the [league]," James said Thursday. "Looking at some of the teams that aren't that great, you take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off these teams that aren't that good right now and you add him to a team that could be really good. Not saying let's take New Jersey and let's take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid, I'm not stupid, it would be great for the league."
Several players and league officials fired back in disagreement with James.
Nets coach Avery Johnson, who was part of the recruiting contingent that made a failed pitch to James in free agency last summer, also disagreed with James' notion that having a handful of teams loaded with star players would be a good thing for the NBA.
"I didn't see his first comment and I didn't see the clarification," Johnson later said. "I just heard about it. I'm not even really interested. Like I said earlier, I think I mentioned it on our conference call [yesterday], it is what it is. I like the league the way it is and we'll keep moving from there."
Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher, president of the players' association, said James' comments were "surprising" but that he did not know if the two-time MVP's stance would "necessarily hurt our case."
The Heat (22-9) have won 14 of their past 15 games entering Tuesday's visit from the New York Knicks. Monday was not the first time this season James has come out to clarify previous comments.
He revisited comments to CNN about race being a factor in his popularity taking a dip after his free agency decision. James also attempted to clear up critical statements he made about coach Erik Spoelstra having played him too many minutes in a Nov. 11 loss to Boston, the on-court bump between he and Spoelstra on Nov. 27 against Dallas and whether he engaged former Cleveland teammates in friendly banter during a Dec. 2 win against the Cavaliers.
James said he was only trying to show support for a time in the 1980s when teams such as the Lakers, Pistons, Bulls, 76ers and Celtics were dominant with star-studded rosters. James said he did not speak with Fisher, nor anyone else from the players' association, about his comments on the Heat's trip to Los Angeles, where they defeated the Lakers on Saturday.
"I'm with the players, and the players know that," James said Monday. "I've been with the players. It's not about getting guys out of the league or knocking teams out. I didn't mean to upset nobody. I didn't tell Avery Johnson to leave either. I didn't say let's abandon the Nets, and not let them move to Brooklyn or let's tear down the Target Center in Minnesota. I never said that."
Michael Wallace covers the NBA for ESPN.com.