It’s the worst kept secret in the NBA that one of the main reasons LeBron returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers was a promise that he would have a large role in strategic decisions. On top of that, LeBron would be able to install his friends and business associates in high places in the organization, all but ensuring that he would be involved in discussions that Heat president Patrick Riley had very much left him out of (think of it less as a free agent signing and more of a corporate takeover). On Tuesday, we looked at LeBron the general manager, and yesterday we considered LeBron as a coach. With the Cavaliers fresh off a game 1 win over the Hawks last night, now is a good time to evaluate how LeBron James has fared as a basketball player.
The first thing to consider when looking at LeBron’s season is the fact that LeBron James has played a lot of basketball over the past fifteen years. Like, an insane amount of basketball. Because his teams go deep into the playoffs, LeBron consistently plays 100-game seasons, and then spends the off-season either playing for Team USA or touring the globe as a basketball and Nike ambassador. The man has put a lot of mileage on his superhuman body, and this was really the first year that it began to actually take its toll. Not that LeBron’s production fell off or it wasn’t clear that he’s the most valuable player in basketball, but LeBron looked legit tired at points this season – his legs weren’t quite under him and his shots weren’t falling.
If the Cavs win the championship this year, it will be the diamond in LeBron’s crown—he won this one on his own.
Because LeBron wasn’t at 100% strength during the entire season, he wasn’t quite able to make as convincing an argument for the MVP award as he usually does, but that doesn’t mean he had a bad year, or that he wasn’t the person you’d want on your team above all other players in the NBA (sorry, Steph). When LeBron is on, he’s insanely dominant, and can will even a wildly uneven team to postseason greatness.
Across the board this season, LeBron’s stats were down, but that didn’t tell much of the story. The Miami Heat with LeBron James were an efficient offensive juggernaut, cemented in their identity. The Cleveland Cavaliers this season, on the other hand, were an unwieldy, runaway offensive train, capable of pouring on insane amounts of points in mere minutes or going wildly cold. Take last night’s game for instance – with LeBron the only offensive player clicking, the Cavs turned to J.R. Smith to pull ahead, a truly miraculous turn of events. J.R. Smith caught fire and everyone just watched in amazement. Without Smith catching fire, LeBron would have had to take the game over, something he has done this postseason to great effect. In short, it’s not that J.R. Smith bailed out LeBron because Lebron would have probably bailed out LeBron anyway. Here’s LeBron sealing the game for the Cavs and making Kyle Korver consider how much he values his own life:
If the Cavaliers win the championship this year without Kevin Love and with a battered Kyrie Irving, it will be the diamond in LeBron’s crown – he pretty much won this one on his own.
Final Grade as Player: A
Photos by Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports