Wednesday, May 12, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
LeBron James is overrated. The NBA's MVP is a quitter. His elbow may or may not be as injured as much as observers assume, and is wrongly being used as an excuse for his poor performance against the Celtics. LeBron is tanking the Cavaliers' title hopes and will leave Cleveland--for Chicago--as soon as humanly possible. At least that's what some would have you believe after the superstar's struggles in the Cavs' Game 5 blowout defeat at the hands of Boston.
There's no question that James hasn't played up to par in the second round of the playoffs. After Tuesday night's 30-point loss, Cleveland trails Boston, three games to two, and is on the brink of going on summer vacation if they can't get it together Thursday evening in Beantown, bringing the series back to Ohio. James' 15-point, three-for-14 shooting night--and an overall lack of aggressiveness that has haunted him all series, sans Game 3--is a major reason the league's top regular-season team is in this boat in the first place. However, while the reigning two-time MVP is unquestionably the straw that stirs Cleveland's drink (as well as the glass and the drink itself), his lack of support has also been as issue. Newfound LeBron bashers will say he's equipped with his best supporting cast--including Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams--he's ever had. Even Cavs owner Dan Gilbert grumbled that he's done all he can to put the team in the best situation possible.
But it simply could be that the veteran Celtics--who everybody had written off due to their lackluster regular season--have finally gotten healthy, found the necessary cohesion and with point guard Rajon Rondo taking his game to a new level, be the better team? Besides James (matched up with longtime All-Star Paul Pierce, no slouch himself, at small forward), where do the Cavaliers have a clear advantage? For all of Jamison's experience and ability, he hasn't exactly had a lot of postseason success. Even with Williams making the All-Star team last season, he certainly came up short when it counted last spring. As far as Shaq--who was the best Cav on the court in Game 5--he can still get it done in stretches, but his days of carrying a team are long gone.
That said, James' play can't be excused. He's been downright awful against Boston. Seemingly unfocused, passing up scoring opportunities, rarely asserting his will on the game as he did against the Bulls in the first round--it's hard to imagine that his elbow isn't more serious of an issue than he's making it out to be. And while his lack of personal accountability in his postgame comments was a bit appalling at this stage in his career, to interpret anything going on this series--including the courtside presence of James' agent, Leon Rose, with University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari--is a huge leap of faith. James is still an intense competitor, and as much as his desire to be a global icon motivates him, winning consumes him more, or he at least understands the correlation between success on the court with success off of it.
Now, regarding the rumors that he's not only leaving Cleveland, but is headed to Chicago, much still remains to be seen. While James' inner circle does wield some influence over him, at 25 years old, he's no longer the preps-to-pros kid that needs others to make decisions for him. In fact, as he's taken strides in the boardroom (regardless of how much business acumen some perceive him to have), sources admit he's attempted to become much more of an independent thinker, regarding trusted associates he once thought of as advisers as colleagues these days, especially as his LRMR marketing venture has taken shape.
Sure, his high regard for Chicago's young talent has to be encouraging, but the whole big-market theory doesn't as much weight when James' Akron roots are considered. Forget living in the shadow of Michael Jordan--James' desire to be the best, to carve out his own path, to be a pioneer--those things make it possible for even the likes of the Clippers and Nets (let alone the Heat and Knicks) to attempt to sell him on relocating, granted they add the necessary pieces to accompany him. As for potentially hand-picking his next coach, the person that should be most concerned right now is probably Mike Brown. The aforementioned Gilbert has proven that money is no object when it comes to placating James and bringing a championship to Cleveland, so if Calipari (a Pittsburgh native who may not want to again compete for attention in the big city when he can rule a smaller fiefdom like Cleveland, Memphis or Lexington, Ky.) is available and James wants him, the defensive-minded, offensively-challenged Brown, who has earned criticism for his perceived lack of leadership and in-game adjustments, may be out of his prized gig.
The chances of Gilbert simply adding "Coach Cal" and further tweaking the Cavs' roster to James' liking are probably higher--at this point, at least--than the Bulls modifying their decades-long culture by adding the personality-laden Calipari (who didn't experience much success in his stint coaching New Jersey and likely has more of an itch to dominate in-state rival Louisville and nemesis Rick Pitino, win a college national title and coach the top incoming prospects he has set to arrive in Lexington than get back to the NBA), who, additionally, wouldn't come cheap. Furthermore, the thought of losing James to a Central Division rival would lead Gilbert and Cavs general manager Danny Ferry to not only seek out a sign-and-trade scenario (which James would likely agree to, as Cleveland signing him would earn him the biggest potential contract; he could always leave on his own), but almost completely gut Chicago's roster, putting the superstar back to square one, albeit with probably both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah by his side.
To make a long story short, not only is the Boston-Cleveland series not over yet--statistics are great, but betting against a likely fired-up James isn't necessarily a wise move--but July 1st is a long ways away. Let's just take first things first and see what happens before jumping to conclusions. Of course, a lot could change by the end of Thursday night's game.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.