Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: a former fan base of LeBron James does not much care for him. I know this to be true, because I am a diehard member of this fan base. I even like him, the person, and love the player, especially when I remember the four years of memories he took the team I root for on.
The story isn’t over yet, so stop me if you’ve heard it: LeBron James has a team loaded with supporting talent. This team has outside shooters who go by the names of Mike Miller and James Jones, two men who sleep-walk through the regular season and make sure everyone hears the clock striking midnight in the playoffs.
The story continues, as does the supporting talent: LeBron has two premiere players alongside him, players who would be the number one options on 25 other teams in the league. One of those premiere players is a guard, someone who never left you, who many times seems to be more explosive and more exciting than LeBron, even if you know in your heart of hearts that LeBron is better than anyone this side of Jordan.
The other player, however, purports to be a big man. Really, he is a shooting guard who was cursed and placed in the frame of a 6’10” body. In his first year with this new team, in this new city, he routinely disappoints, with everyone wanting him to be something different: either a traditional post-up big man, or a pure spot up stretch 4, without realizing that he is both of these things at the same time.
You should have stopped me at the first sentence, by the way. LeBron James, for all that was made of going home, is right back where he was when he was the most hated man in the world: the best player on a team that will lose to the team who gets out of the West.
Your first reaction is the obvious one: I am a Heat fan, and I want to see the Cavs lose. I’ll one-up you: I would like to see them lose to the Spurs. That would be nice. But that isn’t why I’m saying this.
Anyone who paid attention to the Heat during the LeBron era—and I mean paid attention, not tuned in just to boo—should see the similarities and warning signs for this Cavs team. Their offense is too stagnant too often; they don’t know what to do with Kevin Love; so much of what they do revolves around LeBron and Kyrie Irving creating; and, most importantly, David Blatt is their coach.
Those were the same problems that plagued the Heat’s first (ultimately unsuccessful) season, and so much of it is related. Kevin Love, it should be said over and over again, is a poor man’s Chris Bosh. The Heat finally figured out how to effectively use Chris Bosh just under two years into the Big 3’s tenure together, and, coincidentally, it occurred when Bosh got hurt during the playoffs.
You’d think the struggles of that first Heat year would set some sort of path for this year’s Cavs. You’d think. But this is the problem: that first Heat season, like the Cavs season now, Coach Erik Spoelstra was not good. (He still isn’t very good.) However, he improved, learning how to implement a position-less pace-and-space offense to best utilize the talents at his disposal.
David Blatt has not figured that out yet. Often during this playoff series, I’ve said how the Cavs would win by 100 if they were allowed to be coached by Brad Stevens instead of David Blatt. It’s important to note, now and again, how not good David Blatt is at his job.
For the Heat, that caught up to them. Everyone remembers LeBron infamously falling out of touch in that Dallas series (still hurts), but no one wonders why Spoelstra never ran a play for him to get him more involved.
That’s the one factor of this that is different for LeBron between then and now. It doesn’t seem likely he’ll disappear like he did in that Finals. But it may be a moot point.
LeBron James isn’t the same player that he was. Don’t tell any native Ohioans, but he spent his prime in Miami. He is still great, and incredible, and capable of doing things that are borderline affronts to God, but that’s because he can’t do the things that make you think he actually is God. Not anymore. And that’s the problem.
He’s surrounded himself with James Jones and Mike Miller, older and creakier versions of the same models he used five years ago. He’s rented out Kevin Love and David Blatt, the Pepsi products to what he once had. The only improvement he has right now is Kyrie over Dwyane Wade, and that’s only when you realize it was because he was playing with past-his-prime Wade, because, Irving is great, but he can’t imagine the heights Wade accomplished.
And then you consider what’s waiting for him out West. (Yes, he’s getting by Atlanta. Don’t be ridiculous. They’re the 2010 Bulls in this scenario, just waiting to be destroyed by an impatient LeBron.) And when you look out there, it’s real, real scary. The Warriors have the potential to go down as one of the best single teams ever, and they aren’t a given to get out of their conference. Whoever comes out of the Spurs-Clippers-Rockets Bermuda Triangle will be one fiery team on a mission. And all of them—note: all of them—are better than the Cavs.
LeBron is not bringing a championship to Cleveland. Not this year, maybe not ever. The league caught up to him. The Warriors aren’t going anywhere. Anthony Davis is setting up to be the best player for the next decade. And all of this is without mentioning the horrific year the Thunder went through, or without the thought of the Sixers Frankenstein tanking idea actually working out in their favor.
It’s funny, then, to find LeBron running around in circles, recreating the past in a desperate haphazard manner, when it is in fact the league encircling him, like sharks, smelling the fear and anxiety, ready to strike.