It is a privilege that very few are afforded to complain about the direction of a team that sits atop their conference rankings. Yet, that is exactly what LeBron James has been doing lately, making clear his frustrations as the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost five of their last seven, including last night’s seemingly impossible loss in which the King played 44 minutes and recorded a triple- double and his aid-de-camp Kyrie Irving dropped 49 points. This was a loss to the Pelicans, who are currently 18-27 and ranked tenth in the Western Conference. It was, as they say, not a good look.
After the game, James voiced his concerns about the team’s lack of depth, telling reporters that “We’re a top-heavy team,” and that he hopes the organization isn’t satisfied. He has made it clear that the Cavs need another playmaker, specifically focusing on a second point- guard.
With no disrespect to Kay Felder and DeAndre Liggins, he’s right. Of the four who played, the Cavs’ bench scored 13 points on a combined 61 points on Monday night’s loss. Now, it’s unfair to put this entirely on the bench when Irving is eating up all the points and the starters managed to find themselves down at 20 at one point, but if the Cavaliers want to win the NBA Championship again, they will need to do better than Kyle Korver’s five points in 26 minutes and Richard Jefferson’s five points in 22 minutes.
LeBron and the Cavs want to win again, but they will need to play even better than they did last year to repeat their championship. It took Cleveland seven games and a three game streak to beat Golden State last year, and the Warriors went ahead and added Kevin Durant in the offseason. It is not enough to hope that the Warriors will blow a lead like they did last year, and, while the move will probably be useful in the long-run, the addition of Kyle Korver is not enough either. James realizes this, and is dead-set on the addition of another strong member to the Cavs’ backcourt.
Who, exactly, the King has in mind is unclear. Neither is GM David Griffin’s plan for making it happen. The team has virtually no cap space, and has traded away its 2017 and 2019 first-round picks (and subsequently can’t deal their 2018 pick). But, no matter. Let’s assume the Cavs strike gold and get Lou Williams or Jameer Nelson, or some other secondary playmaker that Matt Moore of CBS Sports thinks would work.
This new and improved Cavaliers team would certainly be all the better in their quest for another title. But what would it mean for the league, and what would it mean for LeBron’s plans for his future?
There is literally no other player in the world who could do what LeBron did on Monday night. Players can express frustration with how the team plays or the refs or the coaches or virtually any other facet of the game, but they don’t openly call out their GMs to make trades. They don’t sit down and say that one of the other guys in that locker room, a teammate, needs to be shipped off to some other city to play for some other team so that some other guy can do his job better.
LeBron did it, though, because he can. We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s done it before, and it led to the addition of Kyle Korver. He basically did it a little over a year ago today, and it led to the head coach of a first place team being fired in January. That is unheard of.
The usual rules don’t apply to James, though. He is more than just a superstar; he is LeBron James. Don’t forget it.
James’s desire for a better team is part of his quest for eternal dominance. In his 14 seasons in the league, he has won games and series and championships. He could retire tomorrow, and would go down in the minds of most fans, and an entire generation, as the greatest of all time. Instead, it seems LeBron wants to play forever.
If the Cavaliers make it to the NBA Finals this year, as virtually all experts predict them to do, it will be his seventh straight year playing in the series. This is both remarkable and frightening for James’ future. This means that, right now, LeBron has played in as many series as possible for an NBA player for six straight years. As incredible a physical specimen as he is, human bodies weren’t made to do that. He will eventually have to slow down, and playing 44 minutes on random nights in January against bad Western Conference opponents will not help him.
This is why LeBron needs better players on the team. Yes, there is no doubt that they need to make changes right now if they want to beat the Warriors in the Finals, but LeBron, and the basketball universe, is not ready for a world in which he is not in the league. This is as much about the 2021 Finals as it is about the 2017 Finals. LeBron can’t continue to play basketball at the rate he does. He can, however continue to be the dominating force in the league. He just needs to bully the team into getting some more people on board.
In six years, when James doesn’t even play in the first half of the season, and averages 20 minutes a night before the Conference Finals even start, he’ll be glad he did it.