Will James Ever Satisfy His Critics?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are going back to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season.

Allow that to sink in for a moment.  Four straight chances to play for the NBA title.

And to think LeBron James is responsible for making this happen.  In fact, this is the fifth Finals appearance for the franchise, all with James as the centerpiece, the leader, and the best player on the roster.

James is making his ninth appearance in championship round, and the only players in history to have made more are Bill Russell, Sam Jones, and Kareen Abdul-Jabbar.  That’s it.

By contrast, Michael Jordan went to only six Finals.  Jerry West?  Nine times, same as James.  Magic Johnson?  Only nine times.

Eight of those appearance by James have come in the last eight seasons, four with the Miami Heat, and of course, the last four with the wine and gold.

When Jordan was getting to the Finals on a yearly basis, outside of the two years he left the sport to play baseball, we recall the media adoring His Airness, appreciating what he was accomplishing.

It seems James gets nothing but criticism about his feat.  Yesterday, we read how this season, the Cavaliers avoided the four next best players in the Eastern Conference:  Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Kyrie Irving, in order to win the conference title.

We also read about the terrible teams James defeated to advance to the title round.

James doesn’t have any control over either of these things.  Both the Bucks and Sixers lost to the Celtics in the playoffs, the same Celtics that pushed the Cavs to seven games in the conference finals.

His team got a chance to play Boston, and they won.  Would it be better for his legacy to lose this season or any of the other seven seasons?  If he did, then the media critics would pound him for that.

Last season, Cleveland defeated the top seeded Celtics to get to the Finals.  The year before, the Cavaliers were the top seed, and defeated the second seeded Raptors in six games.

In James’ first return year with the Cavs, the swept the first seed Atlanta Hawks.

And this year, Cleveland knocked off not only the top seeded Raptors, but also the second seeded Celtics.

In LeBron’s four years in Miami, his team was the top seed once, and beat the top seed twice to reach the NBA Championship round.

It is true that James’ record in the Finals is 3-5, but the only time you could claim his team was upset in the Finals was the loss to Dallas in the 2010-11 season.  The other four losses came to the sports’ most consistently excellent franchise of the last 25 years, the San Antonio Spurs, and to Golden State.

The criticism gets really insane when the first loss to the Warriors, in which Cleveland was missing all-stars Kyrie Irving (injured in Game 1) and Kevin Love (missed the entire series), and yet the series still went six games.

And after the Cavs’ triumph in 2016, the Warriors fortified their roster by signing the league’s second best player in Kevin Durant.

When Jordan played, his teams were the equivalent to the Warriors, the team regarded as the league’s best.  Meanwhile, in the last three seasons, the Cavaliers were considered the underdogs going into The Finals.

Perhaps James will be appreciated more when he retires from the sport, at least nationally.  Maybe at that point, when he could be the sport’s all time leading scorer, and rank in the top five in assists, and the top 40 rebounders, we will realize his greatness as a player.

He’s not just a numbers compiler either.  His nine conference titles should be proof of that.



Cavs Defense Might Need A Legitimate Center.

It is no secret that the NBA is going small.

In the 60’s and 70’s, it was thought that you couldn’t win in the league without a dominant big man.

The Celtics were led by Bill Russell, and the only man who could challenge him in those days was Wilt Chamberlain.  Then came Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton.  Even in the late 70’s when the Washington Bullets and Seattle Supersonics were exchanging titles, the Bullets had Wes Unseld and the Sonics had Jack Sikma.

The only anomaly was 1975 when the Warriors led by Rick Barry won the title.

Yes, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird dominated the 80’s, but those teams still had Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish manning the middle.  And the Isiah Thomas led Pistons had a very good center in Bill Laimbeer.

It wasn’t until Michael Jordan won with the Bulls was the center not a factor, but the Rockets won with Hakeem Olajuwon, and after Jordan retired, Shaquille O’Neal was the dominant force in the sport.

Despite all this history, the Cavs seem to have no desire to have a true center on the roster.

Even Golden State, the poster boys for today’s NBA have centers on the roster with Zaza Pachulia starting and JeVale McGee backing him up.

Cleveland has no seven footer on the roster.  Their tallest players are 6’11” Channing Frye, who is really a stretch four, and rookie Ante Zizic, who has garnered just 21 minutes on the season, mostly in mop up roles.

Tristan Thompson plays a lot of center, but he is just 6’9″ and not really a shot blocker.  Kevin Love, ideally a power forward, also gets some time in the pivot.

By contrast, Pachulia and McGee log about 22 minutes per night for the Warriors.

The other elite teams in the NBA also have centers.  Houston has Nene (6’11”) and Clint Capela (6’10”) who averages 1.6 blocks per night in 24 minutes.

Oklahoma City has seven footer Steven Adams, and in the East, the Wizards have Marcin Gortat and Toronto has Jonas Valenciunas.

And we haven’t mentioned Marc Gasol (Memphis) and Pau Gasol (San Antonio).

When Timofey Mozgov departed via free agency after the 2015-16 championship season, so did any interior defensive force Tyronn Lue had at his disposal.

To be fair, the Cavs did sign Chris Andersen and Andrew Bogut a year ago to play that role, but both were injured shortly after arriving in town.

We understand Lue wants his squad to play with pace and be able to spread the floor to open up driving lanes for LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade.

That seems to negate the need for a traditional center, however, there are times when you have to put a legitimate rim protector on the floor.

Right now, opposing teams know there is no penalty in getting to the basket against Cleveland.

We know James is a master at the chase down block, and Wade is a very good shot blocker for a guard, but it’s not quite the same.

If there is one thing that should be on GM Koby Altman’s “to do” list, it should be to get a legitimate inside defensive force.

Thompson is more known for his ability to defend away from the basket on pick and rolls, and his offensive rebounding ability than as an interior defender, and Lue doesn’t seem to want to develop Zizic.

The Cavs need to improve their defensive schemes and principals for sure, but getting someone who can clog the middle and discourage a parade to the rim for the opponents in needed too.

The wine and gold seem to have forgotten that fact.





Rings Shouldn’t Define LeBron’s Greatness

Are we judging LeBron James too harshly?

No, we aren’t talking about the Kyrie Irving situation and all of the drama surrounding that.  That kind of borders on ridiculousness, which is kind of common in today’s NBA.

We are talking about James’ standing among the all time greats of the game of basketball.

When did a players legacy depend on how many championship rings they won?  Really, when did it start?

Was it when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson started talking about how many titles each won to show which was the better player?

Or was it Michael Jordan, who dominated the 1990’s and didn’t let anyone else win any.

In the sixties, the Celtics won virtually every season, but somehow that didn’t make guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson, or Elgin Baylor inferior players.

Heck, West is the logo of the league, and his record in the NBA Finals was 1-8.  His legacy within the game as one of the greatest players ever is without doubt.

Chamberlain was the dominant force in the game in that era, yet we would consider him the best player ever until Jordan ended his career.  The Stilt won two championships.

In the seventies, we remember Rick Barry, a great scorer who may have been the best passer from the forward position before James, and people considered it a capper on his career when he broke through with the Warriors in 1975 and finally won a title.

However, in Jordan’s era, there are many truly great players that don’t get their due from many fans and media alike because they didn’t “get a ring”.

Charles Barkley was a great player.  Nobody can tell us any different.  The same is true with Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, and others.  If you weren’t on Jordan’s team, you didn’t get one.  The same as in Russell’s era.

On the other hand, Robert Horry was a part of seven title teams, Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher were on five championship squads.  Does that make them great players?  Of course not.

If James were to leave the Cavaliers after the 2017-18 campaign, it most likely will be because he sees a better opportunity to win more championships, which is how many will view his career in comparison with Jordan.

That’s what James means when he says he is chasing a ghost.  The ghost of Michael Jordan.

But if we measure greatness in another way, let’s say by appearances in The Finals, then James has the edge, leading his team to eight conference titles, more than anyone who has played in the 21st century.

At this point, James’ legacy shouldn’t depend on how many titles he wins.  If he plays into his late thirties, we could very well wind up as the NBA’s all time leading scorer.

He will also be in the top ten all time in assists.  He would be the only player to rank in the top ten in both scoring and assists.

In addition, he will probably wind up in the top 40 all time in rebounding, and if the Cavs get back to The Finals this season, and they still are the favorites despite all the turnover, he would tie Magic, West, and Tommy Heinsohn with nine conference titles.

Only three players would have made more:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sam Jones, and Bill Russell.

So, if he’s the all time leading scorer, top ten in assists, top 40 in rebounding, and no one played in more Finals, how can he not be considered the greatest player ever, or at the very least in the top two?

It would be judging harshly if he were criticized for only winning three titles.




Legacy Of LeBron Vs. Jordan

It is almost universally recognized that Michael Jordan is the greatest professional basketball player ever because of the six titles he won with the Chicago Bulls in eight years.

There are some who consider Bill Russell because of the Celtics’ dominance in the 60’s, and others who will name Oscar Robertson’s all-around game, Wilt Chamberlain’s unbelievable numbers, and those who will talk about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as well.

Jordan’s rep comes from elevating those teams to championships without other great players on his team.  Yes, Scottie Pippen was a perfect compliment to him, but if let’s say Larry Nance replaced Pippen on those teams, would they still have won?  We would say yes.

This brings us to LeBron James.  Can James pass Jordan as the greatest player ever?

Right now, James has been in seven Finals, one more than His Airness.  The difference, of course, is that the Bulls never lost when they got that far, while James’ teams have suffered four defeats, two each with the Cavaliers and Heat.

One argument used against Jordan is he never defeated another great team in The Finals.  The Bulls first title was against a Laker team on its last legs.  They didn’t win the Western Conference again with this group, led by Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

Probably the closest foe to Chicago were the Utah teams they won their last two titles against.  The Jazz were led by two all-time greats in Karl Malone and John Stockton and repeating elevates that squad.

James’ team lost twice to the Spurs dynasty team (’07 with the Cavs, ’14 with the Heat) led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.  They also defeated that same group in 2013.

And, of course, LeBron led the Cavs over the team with the all-time best regular season record this past summer, beating the 73 win Golden State team.

So, let’s say James takes the Cavaliers back to the Finals the next three seasons.  That will give him ten appearances in the championship series.  The most by any player who never played for the Celtics or Lakers (Bill Russell played in 12, Magic and Jerry West played in 9), and second most all-time.

And let’s say he wins two of those seasons, giving him five titles.  Could we then say he surpasses Jordan?  We say yes.

The main reason is the victory over the Warriors in June, and we presume one of those other wins will also come against Golden State, the 73 win team that also added another at least top 25 player of all-time in Kevin Durant.

As for Russell, the playoffs weren’t as tough then.  Basically, if the Celtics defeated Chamberlain’s team they were in the championship round.  Like Russell, James is surrounded by better talent than Jordan was with the Bulls, but getting to the title round four more times would tilt the scales in James’ direction in our opinion.

So, that’s what James is chasing now.  He’s universally recognized as a top ten player in NBA history, probably top five.

Can he get to #1?  Getting to more Finals will insure that chance, as well as moving up the lists in scoring and assists.  He may very well be the all-time leading scorer or be second by the time he hangs up his sneakers.

The fact he has help from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.