…To the NBA’s most talented player wasting away in Cleveland
We are all witnesses. Nike unveiled that marketing slogan as an ode to LeBron James’s phenomenal talent. They were implying that we are all witnesses to one of the best basketball players of all time. However, in a sad, ironic way, we are all witnesses to something else: a pathetic supporting cast of players that is costing LeBron his chance at a title in Cleveland.
LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. Hands down. Sorry Kobe. Nobody puts in the dagger like Kobe Bryant, but all around LeBron is better now. Career-wise, that is a debate for another day. LeBron’s numbers are astounding. You know that, because everyone writes about that. I don’t need to explain any further. What does not get as much press is the pitiful cast that surrounds LeBron.
In the regular season the Cavaliers were able to achieve the league’s best record. They had a tremendous season in which it appeared that LeBron’s supporting cast was finally coming into fruition. He even had an All Star teammate! But similarly to Wally Szczerbiak’s 2002 All Star campaign, Williams was undeserving. He slipped his way into the game thanks to an injury to Jameer Nelson. However, in the midst of a winning season, no one asked any questions. No one brought up the fact that Cleveland doesn’t have a legitimate power forward. No one brought up the fact that Cleveland doesn’t have a player besides LeBron who can create his own shot. No one questioned whether Zydrunas Ilgauskas could compete with the league’s best big men. Well, the playoffs expose teams flaws. And no team has better exposed the Cleveland Cavaliers than the Orlando Magic.
With the Magic’s run and gun offense that puts up the three-ball at an unprecedented rate, combined with a powerful big man in Dwight Howard, Cleveland has been left without an answer. The Magic have played with confidence, seeming to ignore the pressure in tight situations. The Cavaliers meanwhile, have played tight, slow, and forced basketball. If not for LeBron’s heroics in game 2, this series would be over. Instead, LeBron’s shot has only delayed the inevitable. But don’t blame Cleveland’s disappointment on LeBron.
All LeBron has done in this series is put up 42.25 points per game, 7.25 assists per game, 7.25 rebounds per game and shoot over 50 percent (53.3 to be exact), all while playing nearly 44 minutes per game. His band of sidekicks on the other hand, have been nothing but a disappointment.
After playing about as poorly as any All Star has ever played in the postseason, in games one through three, Mo Williams outdid himself in game 4. After guaranteeing a Cleveland victory, Williams came out and shot 5-15. He didn’t score after the third quarter. His plus/minus rating was -5.
Anderson Varejao hustled, but lacks the talent to be consistent. The man they call “Big Z,” should be referred to as “Slow Z,” as Dwight Howard charged his way through Ilgauskas and Varejao on his way 27 points and 14 rebounds. For a man without a single post move, that is quite impressive.
Cleveland also lacks the bench support that Orlando has. Mickael Pietrus has been a difference maker in this series. He forces LeBron into some of the most difficult shots and can make clutch shots. Tuesday night he was 5-11 from downtown. Cleveland has no answer off the bench. Sasha Pavlovic played 25 scoreless minutes in game 3 and was promptly benched for the entirety of game 4. So Wally Szczerbiak stepped in nicely to shoot 1-4 and record two points and two rebounds in 21 minutes. Cleveland’s bench was outscored 26-14.
Watching game 4 became almost comical. While Orlando moved the ball efficiently, finding open shooters for open threes, Cleveland turned to their one man show. As LeBron’s cast of cast-offs continued to choke as the pressure mounted, LeBron had no choice but to take the ball himself every time down the court. LeBron was scoring all the points, making all the blocks, getting all the rebounds and occasionally would set up one of his goons for an easy basket. LeBron in Cleveland is sadly becoming a very similar situation to my childhood idol Kevin Garnett’s situation in Minnesota. A once-in-a-lifetime player is wasting his career in a place where he cannot win a title.
When LeBron’s contract expires, I expect him to sign somewhere else. Cleveland, a city that hasn’t experienced a pro sports title since the 1960’s, will be heartbroken. But do you blame him? If he can’t win a title this year in Cleveland, when will the Cavs give him a better chance? Mo Williams and Delonte West are solid NBA players. But they are not the pieces that will provide LeBron the little bit of support he needs to carry a team to a title. Instead, LeBron will find that support in a new home via free agency. After witnessing his efforts in these NBA playoffs and the performances of his teammates, no one should fault him for leaving.