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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

LeBron James is Presiding Over the Implosion of the Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James is, without question, one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. He can score, pass, rebound and defend. His basketball IQ is genius level. He has led his team to the NBA Finals for seven straight years, a feat not accomplished since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics won eight straight championships from 1959-66.

LeBron James also deserves most of the blame for the stunning implosion of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers.

James' supporters will point to his numbers this season--26.3 ppg, 8.6 apg, 8.0 rpg, .543 field goal percentage--and smugly smirk while declaring, "He is doing everything possible. The owner, general manager, coach and his teammates are letting him down."

The answer to that is simple: Numbers lie. Or, to be more specific: Numbers devoid of context do not speak truth to power.

James' individual numbers do not accurately reflect his on-court impact this season, nor do they tell the story of the off-court drama that he is creating and that is tearing apart the team.

Pat Riley spoke truth to power about James after James fled Miami: Riley said that the Heat would no longer have to deal with "smiling faces with hidden agendas"--and everyone understood that this was a direct shot fired at James.

James' legacy includes three championships and numerous individual records/accomplishments--but it also includes the truth that--on repeated occasions, with the stakes as high as they could be--he quit. To cite just two examples, he quit versus Boston in the 2010 playoffs and he quit as Dirk Nowitzki outplayed James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to lead Dallas to an improbable championship.

James' primary goal should be to lead his team to a championship--but James always seems to have another "agenda," to use Riley's word. James cannot pass the buck for Cleveland's lousy play to anyone other than himself. Owner Dan Gilbert has consented to vastly exceed the salary cap to sign or re-sign every player that James and his team of advisers hand picked/represent. Gilbert also fired Coach David Blatt and replaced him with James' choice, Tyronn Lue. James refuses to commit to staying in Cleveland--and will likely leave the franchise high and dry this summer--yet he seems to expect everyone else to play hard and commit to the Cavaliers' success. Kyrie Irving, a star in his own right, balked at James' power plays and drama and managed to escape from the Cavaliers before James blows the whole team up.

James cannot complain about anyone's defense when his defensive effort this season has been abysmal.

James cannot complain about players not being focused or playing hard when he is sending social media messages to himself to congratulate himself on scoring 30,000 career points before he even reached the milestone. James' narcissism is breathtaking and that is just one example.

James cannot complain about the owner's spending habits, the coaching staff or his teammates when (1) the owner has spent money exactly the way James wanted, (2) the coaching staff was picked by James and (3) James has picked the roster.

LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time--but his conduct this season is simply game five of the 2010 Boston series writ large and it is a stark statement of why James cannot be compared to championship-first greats such as Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. James'  talent is immense and his accomplishments are prodigious but he is missing some essential internal element that those other players had.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:34 PM

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10 Comments:

At Wednesday, February 07, 2018 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

It is strange that despite their extended success, a lot of people feel sorry for the Cavaliers and dealing with Lebron. It feels like there are more players than ever in the league now, who are big number stars, who you probably wouldn’t want on your team. I’m not saying Lebron is one of these guys yet, but I’m starting to give him sideways glances. Honestly if Lebron goes to San Antonio I think he could either win 5 more championships, or destroy Popovich. I lean towards winning 5 though (maybe I respect Pop too much?). On the other hand if he goes to a team that lets him run the show, does he get any more championships?

I mean look at Tristan Thompson’s ridiculous contract. What an albatross. The team is full of his friends (and Kevin Love). Does anyone else not believe that the reason Love is perpetually in trade talks is probably because Lebron doesn’t like him much? Can you imagine being Love? I’m impressed with his mental fortitude, I would have skipped out years ago. I guess he realises that if he leaves Lebron’s camp will dump the blame on him and try to tarnish his career.

 
At Friday, February 09, 2018 3:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irving is looking more and more like a genius getting out of CLE. And for those few who questioned how great he was of a player, he's now the best player on the East's #1 squad, and his best teammate has played less than 1/2 a game on the season. He's right back to playing great without James, just like he was before James came to CLE. The difference now is that he has a competent cast around him.

The unfortunate thing about all of this is that CLE will likely make the Finals again. The East is more competent this year with more decent teams, but I can't think of a weaker title team in several decades than the 2018 versions BOS or TOR(the 2 biggest threats to CLE this year), meaning James again doesn't have to contend with even 1 true contender in order to get to the Finals.

 
At Friday, February 09, 2018 5:50:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

To Anonymous,

People all season long have been talking about how great Boston is. So if the Cavs defeat them in The playoffs you can't really say James had an easy road to the finals.

To David.
After the firing of Blatt and the signing of Thompson, the Cavs won the title.
I don't know if James influenced Blatt's firing.

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2018 12:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AW, I never said easy and don't really care what most people say, though CLE definitely has one of the easier roads to the Finals I've seen. James and Giannis are the only 2 players in the East even resembling a superstar-type player, and MIL definitely isn't equipped to win a title this year. BOS is a quality team, but I doubt any title team in recent memory would be too concerned with them. And relative to what CLE would have to face in the West, there's no comparison. And what title team(s) in the past 25 years or so is weaker than 2018 BOS? I'd say 2011 DAL and 2004 DET are 2 of the weaker title teams in that span, but they each played great in the postseason, and I wouldn't take 2018 BOS over either of them. Almost never and not for many years has James' teams actually had to face a real contender in the East.

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2018 1:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

James' influence on Blatt's firing--and, more significantly, James' undermining of Blatt while Blatt was the coach--is well documented. I never thought that Blatt was the right coach for the job but I also thought that James could have handled the situation better.

Yes, the Cavs won the title in 2015. James is without question a great player--but he also quits when he does not get his way and he often refuses to take responsibility when his teams are not successful.

 
At Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:59:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

the Cavs won the title, but Irving was alpha dog and LBJ needed constant prodding to be as aggressive as he was.... they accomplished great comeback behind the duo - LBJ great ability + Irvings mentality which affected whole team.

I'd dare to say it wouldn't be possible without Irving, but the credit went to The Big Narcissus... and he did excellent job, but... would he do the same on his own? It didn't guite work next year or the year before.

just saying

 
At Wednesday, February 21, 2018 11:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

Irving definitely has some alpha dog tendencies/wiring that James often seems to lack. Irving's mindset is similar to Kobe's. If Irving were bigger, he would have a chance to be the best player in the league but to some extent his size places some limitations on his potential; similarly, Isiah Thomas was an alpha dog all the way but he was listed at 6-1 (and may have been closer to 5-11/6-0), so it was just hard for him to have the same impact game in and game out as Bird/Magic/Jordan during that era.

 
At Wednesday, February 21, 2018 5:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Kobe played an awful lot more defense than Irving. I'm not sure even a 6'7 Irving would have much shot at being the best player in a league with Giannis/KD/Anthony Davis/Kawhi in it unless he became not only more interested in defense, but something approaching elite on that end.

To his credit, he has put in more effort this year, but he still grades out as somewhere between a poor and average defender, and his consistency (both in terms of effort and effectiveness) fluctuates pretty wildly.

 
At Thursday, February 22, 2018 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

That is a valid point. Let me clarify that what I should have said is that Kyrie Irving has a similar mindset to Kobe Bryant in terms of attacking the defense and in terms of relishing the opportunity to take/make clutch shots; Irving understands and accepts that responsibility in a way that LeBron James often does not. You are correct that Irving is not nearly as good or tenacious defensively as Bryant was. For that matter, Isiah Thomas was a better and more consistent defensive player than Irving as well.

 
At Thursday, February 22, 2018 9:48:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

all I'm saying is Irving has this "killer instinct", even when he lacks in abilities to be the best player, and it could become contagious in the right circumstances (e.g. when LBJ felt like it the title year)

 

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