“We’re not better than last year, We need a f***ing playmaker”
LeBron James was in no mood to hold back. The Cleveland Cavaliers had just lost the fifth of their last seven games, the latest loss coming to a short-handed New Orleans Pelicans team that sat out All-Star starter, and the league’s second leading scorer Anthony Davis, due to an injury.
The spate of losses included a 35-point drubbing at the hands of their 2016 NBA Finals rivals, the Warriors, and a narrow overtime 118-115 loss against the San Antonio Spurs, a potential 2017 NBA Finals rival.
LeBron’s words sparked off NBA Hall-Of-Famer and TNT talking head Charles Barkley who questioned James’ competitiveness. “He is an amazing player. He’s the best player in the world. They’re the defending champs. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t wanna compete?”
To cut a long story short, LeBron responded by questioning Barkley’s credibility and brought up Barkley’s spotty past. Barkley stuck by his words, and we are left with the question, does the King need a floor general?
Well, like coins, arguments have two sides as well. So, let us break it down.
LeBron’s wishes have been granted
Ever since his return to Cleveland, the management have made clear this is James’s team. After all, this was a two-time NBA Champion and the world’s best basketball player. They gave him the keys to personnel decisions and went about work immediately. In a letter announcing his return to his hometown, he conspicuously left out both Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (both No. 1 picks for Cleveland) further fueling the speculation that he wanted Kevin Love on the Cavaliers. The Wiggins-Love deal went through and James now had his super team.
Injuries in the postseason to both Kevin Love (shoulder) and Kyrie Irving (ankle) derailed their Championship hopes in their first season. James became a one man wrecking machine in the Finals (after Irving went down) and single handedly held off the Warriors, before falling to them in six games.
The following season drama ensued. Despite assurances that he was returning, James took some time to sign on the dotted line. Remember, James had only signed a one year contract upon returning to the Cavaliers. This time he held out for Tristan Thompson, a ferocious rebounder and one of the longest serving players on the Cavalier roster, who not only is very close with James, but also shares an agent with him. LeBron broke his silence on the issue through an Instagram post that kicked the organisation into to gear signing Thompson to an $82 million-5 year deal, which was a bit short of the $94 million max-deal he was expecting. Once assured that Thompson was a done deal, James inked his own $47 million-2 year deal with an option to opt out after the first year.
Fast forward through the historic 2015-‘16 season, which ended with the Cavaliers pulling off one off the greatest feats in the history of sport, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to topple the record-breaking 73-9 Golden State Warriors.
Then last offseason, there was drama again. James first opted out of his contract, only to re-sign the dotted line of a $100 million-3 year contract. Then, he continued to publicly call-put and pushed the Cavaliers to re-sign JR. Smith. The Cavaliers front office finally relented and offered a $57 million four year deal to Smith. James then also nudged the Cavs in the direction of restricted free-agent Mike Dunleavy, who the Cavaliers traded for. The trade also carried speculation that James asked for the trade on behalf of one of his closest friends Dwyane Wade, whose move to Chicago would not have happened had the Chicago Bulls not traded away Dunleavy’s contract.
So if you are keeping score at home, James got, Kyrie Irving (a result of the Cavaliers abysmal season after James left for Miami), Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Mike Dunleavy, all while assembling one of the most expensive rosters in the history of the NBA.
And he still wants more
Well, here is why LeBron (and the Cavaliers) need a (at least one) point guard.
At 32, and nearly 1,250 NBA games on his legs, James is averaging a beastly 37.5 minutes per game. Only Kyle Lowry (league leader at 37.7 mpg) comes close at age 30 and even he only about 750 games on his legs. Every other player in the top-50 of minutes played per game this season, is either much younger (average age of the other 49 being just 25.5 yrs) or are James’s age (Carmelo Anthony and Marcin Gortat) but are not remotely as burdened with carrying a team as he is.
The play on court does not paint a rosy picture either. With the departure of Matthew Delladova and the untimely injury to JR Smith, the Cavaliers have a gaping hole at the point guard position. Even Kyrie Irving, while traditionally a point guard, thrives off the ball, and is best when creating his own shot, something he is born to do. That leaves James to not only handle the ball, but to also create his own shot and run the offense the entire game. Add to this his defensive responsibilities, and James is keeping the Cavaliers’ playoff hopes alive almost single-handedly.
James is desperate to make that run at the Championship again. He is in his absolute prime, has not lost a step and has thankfully remained free of grievous injury so far. This makes his frustration even more valid, considering another untimely injury to any one of their big three (love is already sitting out games with back spasms) and the season is over.
Kyle Korver, as incredible as he is, is not the answer. And while, getting a point guard is not going to shield them from the inevitability of a lost season in case of an injury to one of their Big Three, it definitely gives James a fighting chance. That is all that he is asking for. Remember, this is the best basketball player on the planet, someone who single handedly held off the Warriors in an epic six game battle in the 2015 NBA Finals.
It’s clear what the Cavaliers need to do if they want to repeat, give James his fourth ring, and once again create history in sport and for the city of Cleveland. And in case it is not clear, James has already dropped them an expletive-laden hint.
Best of the Week:
Performance of the Week: Stephen Curry vs LA Clippers, 43 pts
I had a hard time ignoring Isaiah Thomas’ 40-point games (twice) this week, only because (a) he is getting some love below, and (b) Curry is back. It takes a truly great player to share alpha dog status especially on a team you have been loyal to your whole career. Even more so, when the alpha dog you are sharing the status with was a conference rival that nearly beat you two months prior. All said and done, there is not anything more beautiful thing in basketball than watching Curry unleash his offensive powers upon a defence that came prepared to shut him down. It is poetry in motion.
Game of the Week: Boston Celtics beat Toronto Raptors, 109-104
A possible Eastern Conference Finals matchup, if the Cavaliers do not address their point guard problems, the Raptors-Celtics game did not disappoint. The Kyle Lowry-Isaiah Thomas duel was clearly the highlight of the game, with both guards making NBA fans regret for not giving them starting roles at the 2017 NBA All-Star game. Lowry finished with 32 points but was overshadowed by Thomas, who did what Thomas does best, scoring 19 points in the fourth quarter en route a 44-point performance.
Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, 40.0 ppg / 6.8 apg / 44.4% three-point percentage
Picking the Player of the Week has not been easier this season. What Isaiah Thomas is doing in the NBA is unprecedented. Generously listed 5’9”, Thomas is a fourth quarter scoring machine, the likes of which the NBA has not seen in a very long time. To give his 10.7 ppg in the fourth quarter some perspective, Kobe Bryant finished the 2005-‘06 season with 9.5 ppg in the fourth. No one has come remotely close ever since. What time is it? It’s Thomas time.
Team of the Week: Dallas Mavericks (4-0)
Six teams had a perfect record this week, including the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics who both had a 4-0 week. The Dallas Mavericks, however, edge everyone else for the sheer tenacity they showed by beating the San Antonio Spurs (on the road) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (at home) on back-to-back nights. Even more impressive is the fearlessness and calm the showed considering both games came down to the wire, with the Mavericks holding ground for a four-point and seven-point win respectively.