Where does LeBron James’ responsibility start and end?

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By John, John is a Roar Rookie

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    Much of the narrative surrounding the Cavaliers during the 2018 NBA finals is how little help LeBron James had on this Cavaliers roster.

    All corners of the media haven’t held back when damning the play of the Cavs supporting cast, and to be fair, if you took LeBron off this roster, it is headed straight to the top of the lottery.

    A concurrent and complimentary storyline revolves around the greatness of LeBron – how only a player of his immense talent and stature could carry this squad to the NBA finals and, were it not for the bumbling efforts of his teammates, he would have stolen Game 1 on the road.

    If LeBron were to have won this series, it would have elevated him above Michael Jordan in the eyes of many as the greatest player ever.

    However, maybe we are looking at this all wrong. Can we apportion 100 per cent of the blame for the Cavs’ shortcomings to the supporting cast?

    First and foremost, this supporting cast is James’s making. Since returning to Cleveland James has wielded great influence over the franchise – he’s commonly referred to as GM LeBron – as he brokered trades and free agency signings and established a roster of trusted players and friends.

    In the summer of 2014, before he had even begun playing with the Cavs again, James recruited Kevin Love, a player who was not a free agent. He sold him on the city and the team, and not long afterwards the Cavs traded for the All-Star forward. It has not been a perfect marriage – there is no doubt Love took some adjusting to playing alongside LeBron – and Love has not maintained the All-NBA level of play he was known for in Minnesota, but he is no scrub.

    LeBron James and Steph Curry, NBA Finals.

    (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

    James also put huge pressure on the Cavs to re-sign Tristan Thompson in the summer of 2015. Thompson and the Cavs entered into a stalemate in negotiations that led to Thompson holding out on training camp. James frequently commented publicly regarding the value Thompson brought to the team and how the holdout was a distraction. Thompson also shares James’s agent.

    Eventually the Cavs handed Tristan Thompson, a valuable but limited rotation player, a five-year $82 million deal. In 2016 LeBron urged the Cavs to re-sign JR Smith, who ended up getting a four-year $57 million contract.

    Many question Tyronn Lue’s coaching ability, and remarkably Lue has escaped the Game 1 fiasco with only a small apportionment of blame despite choosing not to call a timeout after the JR Smith rebound.

    Pretty much every aspect of Lue’s coaching has been criticised this season and it all feels justifiable. Lue’s inability to get anything meaningful out of the Cavs supporting cast is an indictment on his quality as a coach. It is impossible to be sure the Cavs would have been more competitive had they been led by a better coach, but it certainly feels like it wouldn’t have hurt.

    The Cavs, however, did have a guy who notionally knew basketball in David Blatt. LeBron didn’t like him and orchestrated his firing before the Cavs hired Lue at James’s insistence

    (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

    Last summer the NBA world was shocked by the announcement that co-star Kyrie Irving was demanding a trade. The details around his reasoning have never been clear other than that he wanted to have his own team. This is not uncommon or unreasonable in the NBA. The only thing that is clear is that the situation in Cleveland was no longer meeting Kyrie’s needs, and in Cleveland LeBron is the situation.

    I find it hard to believe LeBron didn’t understand how valuable Kyrie was to that team. I do not know what lengths LeBron went to to ensure he stay, but it was obviously not enough.

    Isiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, who joined the Cavs as part of the Irving trade, also struggled to fit in and get on James’s good side. Neither were able to string together consistent performances on the court and were promptly traded away midseason to assuage LeBron’s general disdain for the roster.

    When we reflect on the 2018 NBA finals many of us will wonder how competitive LeBron could have been with even a league average supporting cast, but we cannot forget that LeBron played a large role in building this team. LeBron has made achieving success with the Cavs more difficult than it may have otherwise been.

    Cleveland’s front office is certainly not without blame for the roster either – after all, they are the ones who execute LeBron’s wishes. However, their rationale may be slightly more understandable.

    The Cavaliers’ entire basketball strategy has focused on doing whatever it takes to keep LeBron James in Cleveland. If this year has proven anything it is that if you have LeBron James on your roster (in the east), you are going to the NBA finals. And, notionally, once you are there, anything can happen.

    LeBron James

    (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Obviously this season it didn’t feel that way, but there were 14 other eastern teams that weren’t able to earn the right to be there. Four finals trips in four years for the Cavs and eight in eight for rosters featuring LeBron – the keep-LeBron-happy strategy gets results.

    Of course you would like to think that the front office team could do more to build around such a phenomenal talent, but their top priority was always his happiness rather than basketball fit.

    Great players are supposed to make their teammates better. Maybe the belief is that this supporting cast is so poor it is not reasonable to expect LeBron to elevate their play to a level of positive contribution, but I think that is giving him a pass. There is no doubt the Cavs role players are not elite, but these guys are no scrubs – in fact there are no scrubs at all in the NBA.

    Rodney Hood, who was virtually unplayable in the play-offs, averaged 16.8 points per game and 2.6 threes per game in 28 minutes a night this season when he was with the Jazz. Adjusting to a new team midseason is surely no easy task, but this guy can play. Yet between LeBron, coach Lue and his staff, no-one could figure out how to get productive minutes out of him.

    Kyle Korver is one of the best three-point shooters the NBA has ever seen. This one is certainly more on the coaching staff, but not finding a way to get him going in the finals is criminal.

    LeBron James drives past Lonzo Ball

    (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    George Hill is a highly capable starting point guard. He spearheaded the best defensive team in the league during his time in Indiana. He had an outstanding season with Utah just last year, averaging 17 points, four assists, three rebounds and a steal. Yet with the Cavs both his shooting and passing dropped off.

    Jeff Green is an NBA enigma. I won’t hold this one against LeBron as no-one has been able to figure him out.

    Larry Nance is a perfectly good NBA rotation player and a prime candidate to explode when playing alongside LeBron. He rebounds, he screens and he dunks. He does the little things and can finish when being gifted looks. However, his numbers were virtually identical to when playing alongside a rookie point guard in an overloaded and ill-fitting front court.

    And of course there is JR Smith. LeBron has got more out of Smith than was ever intended by God in seasons past, but Smith’s play in the 2018 play-offs was a far cry from those days.

    By and large LeBron just hasn’t been able to elevate the play of his supporting cast. A big part of this seems like excuse making for his impending departure in free agency.

    Another part of it seems that LeBron can be a difficult teammate. I do not blame him; we have all been in jobs where our colleagues frustrate us with incompetence. Even though we know it is our job to support and develop them, that frustration can cloud judgement and make for a very unproductive environment.

    The best managers try to avoid ever being frustrated with their staff. Is it fair to expect the same from LeBron? Basketball is a team sport, and as the team’s best player and captain LeBron is a leader whether he wants to be or not. So, yes, it is fair to expect this of him.

    After Game 4 Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the media “We had more talent than they did, and talent wins in this league”.

    That the Cavs were grossly outmatched in the NBA finals is undeniable. The odds were against them, and as the dust settles, it is clear there isn’t much more LeBron could have done to change the outcome of this series.

    But there is also no doubt he was not without fault both in building this team and in its failure of leadership.

    New South Wales have won the 2018 State of Origin series with an 18-14 win in an absolutely outstanding Game 2 at ANZ Stadium. See how the action unfolded with our NSW vs QLD Origin 2 scores, highlights and blog.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • June 14th 2018 @ 12:28pm
      astro said | June 14th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

      Nice article…I agree that Lebron has to take part of the blame for the Cavs roster, but a few things I’d argue with.

      1. He knew nothing about the Kyrie trade, and if he had his way, would never have approved it. Multiple reports have talked to this. Windhorst, who has followed James his entire career was quoted as saying Lebron was “devastated” when he found out about the Kyrie trade demands…and that the Cavs management didn’t try to work things out before trading him. Kyrie had no leverage, yet the Cavs just gave in to his demands. San Antonio had a similar situation at the start of last year with Aldridge…they worked it out and he was their best player.

      2. The coaching change from Blatt to Lue lead to the first NBA championship in Cavs history…I’d say that one worked out for Lebron, no?

      3. “By and large LeBron just hasn’t been able to elevate the play of his supporting cast” Statistically, this is true and also not true (http://www.espn.com.au/nba/story/_/id/23684417/kevin-pelton-weekly-mailbag-does-lebron-james-make-teammates-better). He elevates players around him, if they are the right type of player. If you’re a role player, Lebron is a dream to play with. If you need the ball to be effective, guess what…Lebron is not ideal.

      4. Rodney Hood being terrible in the playoffs in entirely on Hood. He had opportunities, but failed under the spotlight as he did at Utah.

    • June 14th 2018 @ 5:11pm
      Swampy said | June 14th 2018 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

      I find this question as odd as the answers.

      If we take the side that LeBron’s supporting cast weren’t up to scratch then how did they make the finals and eliminate 3 very good teams along the way?

      Answer: LeBron is incredible. The Warriors were just more incredible.

      If LeBron’s cast was a good supporting cast then why did they get swept in the Finals?

      Answer: the Warriors are incredible.

      The end game is to beat a team with four current all-stars, two MVP’s, two of the last three titles, three of the greatest shooters of all-time including the greatest shooter of all-time, three all-world defenders plus Durant and an average age of about 28 (eg. Prime). No matter how much money you have or players available – the warriors would be hard pressed to be defeated by ANYONE. The Rockets made progress but couldn’t do it. No one else has come close except for Cleveland.

      • June 15th 2018 @ 6:45am
        express34texas said | June 15th 2018 @ 6:45am | ! Report

        It’s not about necessarily winning or losing vs GS, it’s how James played. James was immature to hurt his hand after game 1. For someone the media/fans pump up constantly, this is a ridiculously bad rookie mistake. And then his effort level wasn’t there after game 1. Even if his hand was broken or near-broke (who knows, and why are we only learning about after game 4, and why did he only wear a cast after game 4, hmm), he could still give maximum effort when he played. JVG called him out on it. It’s refreshing at least some people don’t continue to make excuses for James. While GS was stacked, KD still outplayed him overall. Hard to argue with his supposed lack of help when that’s happening. It’s one thing to lose the series, but it’s the way they did, and to get swept shouldn’t have happened.

    • June 15th 2018 @ 10:02am
      Wayne Turner said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      Don’t forget the East is terrible. Hence why this crap Cavs team made the Finals,just. Celtics if they had Irving and Hayward would of made it instead.

    • June 16th 2018 @ 9:43am
      Sylvester said | June 16th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      Lebron will never take responsibility for this lackluster roster, even though he should. I do agree that Cleveland needs to be held accountable as well, but unfortunately when you sign Lebron, you are also relinquishing some of the control you have in your organisations front office.

      Lets also not forget the NBA were forced to investigate Lebron’s involvement in Klutch Sports after team mates J.R Smith and Tristan Thompson signed lucrative long-term deals.

      All in all, this Cavs team never stood a chance against Golden State and were probably lucky to reach the finals in the first place. A young Victor Oladipo in Indiana forced a game 7, as did an undermanned Boston Celtics.

      Theres no doubting Lebron is still the best (current) player in the world, but if you are screaming for him to sign with your team I’d say be careful what you wish for. Yes, in the east he can almost guarantee you a spot in the finals, but he may only hang around for a couple years then leave your franchise in tatters.

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