We’re not five hours removed from LeBron James declaring himself the “King of New York” following a true superstar turn during a Cleveland Cavaliers comeback win in Madison Square Garden on Monday, seemingly putting a drama-filled past few weeks behind him. The team meeting. The finger-pointing. The cryptic social media post. The war of words. All of it was supposed to be in the rearview mirror.
Then, as LeBron’s world turned, the next episode came.
Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck went behind the scenes of LeBron’s trip through New York, and among a ton of interesting anecdotes — from a scout saying the Cavs “could be a team that gets beat early in the playoffs” to an executive suggesting any and all trades “should all be on the table” in Cleveland — was this juicy tidbit that may or may not have been another veiled shot at ex-teammate Kyrie Irving:
James is loathe to place that burden on [Isaiah] Thomas (“We can’t rely on just one person.”). Yet he knows, better than anyone, how badly he needs him.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had that clear-cut guy who can get guys involved but also score at the same time,” James told B/R Mag. “But it’s fine. It’s something that our team will make an adjustment to.”
The workload is OK, James insisted. He’s not worried about wearing down, even in this, his 15th season. But he noted, “I look forward to when IT returns, whenever that happens, to give me a break here and there, where I know he can run the offense and control a quarter or two, or a game if need be.”
This isn’t the only bomb dropped in Beck’s column, but it’s the one we’ll focus on for now. There is no way to tell how long “a while” is in LeBron’s mind, but either way he has to know this shade will cover someone — whether it’s Irving, the prolific scorer who’s proven to be an elite playmaker on the league-leading Boston Celtics or any of the many shot-creators not named Thomas on the Cavs roster.
James has played all of 14 games since Irving asked out of Cleveland and got his wish in a trade to Boston. If that’s “a while” in LeBron’s playbook, then the 1,292 games he’s played over his 16-year career must feel like an eternity. It is true that there were questions about Irving’s ability to carry the Cavaliers in LeBron’s absence, but Irving has provided plenty of answers during Boston’s 12-2 start.
And if LeBron is merely referring to this season, then that isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for guys like Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and others who were brought in to help steer the ship before Thomas returns in late-December or early January at the earliest — no matter how true his statement may be.
Thomas previously said he expects to adjust to life with LeBron “quicker than somebody else could,” and he echoed those sentiments to Beck. “I can help, first off with my aggressiveness and my scoring ability,” Thomas told Bleacher Report. “But just putting pressure on the defense every time down. Being able to get in the paint and make the defense pick and choose what they want to stop. Being able to get to the free-throw line. Little things like that that I see nobody’s really doing but Bron.”
Sorry, D-Rose and D-Wade, but you’re not going to cut it, at least not in the mind of the two stars at the top of the Cleveland bill. Never mind the fact that the Cavaliers currently own the league’s worst defensive rating by almost two points per 100 possessions, James and Thomas are apparently convinced that their problems reside on offense, where the Cavs are currently third in offensive rating.
This is the same request, only less colorful, and Cleveland last fulfilled it with Deron Williams (who is still available, by the way). Now, the Cavs are relying on the return of Thomas from a devastating hip injury to heal what ails them and lighten the load on LeBron’s league-high 38.1 minutes per game.
That or a trade. Are you listening current Cavs GM Koby Altman?
“I think Koby has kind of opened that door for me,” James told B/R Mag. “I’m all about what’s best for the franchise. That’s what’s best for me, because I want to win.”
“I feel great, I’m playing great, so I’m still in win mode,” James continued. “So if I feel like it’s something that can help the franchise be successful, then I’ll voice my opinion.”
The Cavaliers have an ace up their sleeves in this regard — the unprotected Brooklyn Nets pick they acquired upon swapping Irving for Thomas, which should be a top-10 pick this coming June. But there would be significant risk for Cleveland in dealing that asset for another playmaker. The organization has no guarantee that LeBron will re-sign this summer, when he becomes a free agent amid rumors of his exit, and mortgaging the farm for one last run at a title could prove devastating for a rebuild.
There are those who believe that one of the last bits of drama involving James — the Arthur Fist meme he posted on social media — signaled his displeasure with the Cavs failing to acquire Eric Bledsoe in a trade, and his remarks to Beck only seem to further that argument. But that’s just unsubstantiated drama, and you can bet there will be more of that to come, regardless of LeBron’s on-court brilliance.
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