LeBron James has been spectacular this year. There’s no debating it.
He played all 82 regular-season games, led a thin roster to the playoffs and has put together one ho-hum triple double after another. If you want to write him in as the MVP you’ll get no pushback here.
Imagine if he wills the Cavaliers to the Finals against the Warriors. Again. Epic.
It is all the more remarkable given the conventional wisdom that he is virtually doing it by himself. The weak supporting cast meme hit a cultural milestone last week when it became an (unaired) Saturday Night Live skit.
Cast members were dressed as “the other Cavaliers” and insisted that they DO help LeBron. They hold his cellphones, give him neck massages and high-fives. At the end, a LeBron look-alike walked away, literally carrying a teammate on his back.
All of which means, when the season ends, that the where-is-LeBron-going sweepstakes game will be all over the internet. Imagine if the Lakers get LeBron. Wow.
Yeah, well, I’d be careful what you wish for. Let’s be clear what you are acquiring.
For starters, this isn’t a player; it’s a corporate brand. James is not just used to being the star; he expects to call the shots. You even hear people say he’s actually coaching the Cavaliers now.
He’s been coaching the Cavaliers for years. The joke from the playoffs is that the only decision head coach Tyronn Lue makes at crunch time is to designate which player will pass the ball to LeBron.
The concern is, does James expect to be general manager, too? Will he demand that you blow up your roster midseason, as the Cavaliers did this year?
Those are potential points of conflict with teams that aren’t willing to turn over the keys to the franchise to a franchise player.
Now, as far as being on the court, it’s pretty simple. It is his team. LeBron controls the ball (third-highest “usage” in the NBA), the offense and the music in the locker room. He’s the Big Brother and is quick to berate mistakes and call out teammates.
Maybe it is the tough-love model from Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, who tore into teammates regularly.
But how does that play with others on the roster?
“It’s not for everybody,” former teammate (and LeBron fan) Richard Jefferson said recently on The Undefeated.
The first red flag came last July when Kyrie Irving, who hit the game-winner in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, demanded a trade. Insiders said Irving wanted to be a focal point for a team, but the word was also out that he did not want to play alongside James anymore.
You’ve got to be pretty unhappy to walk away from an NBA championship team.
Others, like Kevin Love, seem to have made the decision to stick it out. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst says Love has left the arena feeling “beleaguered and beaten down … directly or indirectly by LeBron.”
Love, courageously, wrote about suffering a panic attack during a game this season. Now, James didn’t give him a panic attack. But it sounds like a stressful work environment.
Lue can attest to that. He abruptly left the team for nine games this spring, saying he was unable to sleep and had been experiencing chest pains. He returned and says he is fine. But it was still strange and troubling.