Ode to ‘Bron
Cavs put pieces in place for championship run.
by Seth Gruen
If LeBron James leaves Cleveland this offseason, his mind must have been made up long before the ‘09-10 season started. For the better part of James’ career the Cavaliers were much too often a one-man show. LeBron did everything in Cleveland short of giving tours of the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
After acquiring Antawn Jamison at this year’s trading deadline, though, it has capped what was once thought an impossible task. The Cavs have actually put enough talent around James to win a title.
It’s what he called for. He needed the organization to prove its commitment to winning. They have, so now it’s simply a matter of whether the King wants to rule another kingdom. I’ve been to Cleveland, actually for the sole purpose of attending a Cavs game and it’s about as exciting a city as Hattiesburg, MS sans Brett Favre. But James has maintained, like any other NBA superstar, that he only cares about winning a title. Big city glitz is only secondary.
The Cavaliers’ ode to James began in earnest this offseason when they signed Shaquille O’Neal solely to guard Dwight Howard after him and the Magic bested Cleveland in last year’s conference finals. Couple O’Neal with Jamison and Mo Williams and James has three All-Stars in his supporting cast.
The Cavaliers are now the deepest team in the Eastern Conference. Heck the Browns even did their part this past season, booting wide receiver Braylon Edwards to the Jets after he ruffed up someone in James’ entourage.
The only thing left to do is elect him mayor, but James has more on the agenda—most notably winning a championship. Ohio’s prodigal child now has the means to elevate the NBA’s most-tortured franchise to the top of the game.
Cleveland took a lesson from the Lakers after they won a championship having similarly struggled when they were previously the Los Angeles Bryants. Kobe Bryant was unhappy with a Lakers roster bereft of championship talent. So, the Lakers added Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. It worked. He stayed. And they won, but didn’t stop there. They signed Ron Artest this offseason.
The Lakers aren’t the lone example of a superstar-driven team that needed to add to its roster to win a title. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman (Horace Grant during the first three titles), Magic Johnson needed James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and Isiah Thomas needed Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer. Get the picture?
James still will have to be superhuman. It will just come a lot easier now as his supporting cast is capable of deflecting attention from him. Everybody is better with talent around them.
Should James choose to stay in Cleveland, it’s likely he’ll sign a three- or four-year deal to keep the organization in check. A long term deal might give them the leeway to flake out on their commitment to winning.
But for now, this team should—dare I say will—make the Finals. It’s a league where four teams during any given year care about winning the championship while the rest plan for the future.
The Cavaliers, and more importantly James, have no excuse. The Celtics are old and the Hawks are inexperienced.
So, only the Magic stand in the way of the Cavaliers and NBA glory and they lack leadership. Since Hedo Turkoglu left, Orlando lacks the crunch-time scorer needed to succeed in the playoffs. Dwight Howard can only play with his back to the basket and relies on others to get him the ball. Advantage James.
The path through the Eastern Conference couldn’t be any easier. Getting to a championship game wouldn’t be any easier if James joined Stephon Marbury in China. James has all the tools.
It isn’t just the talent on the roster, but how each player compliments one another. Shaquille O’Neal has gracefully forgone his shot attempts to LeBron and has limited his visibility in the media to every other day. Williams has always been James’ sidekick and Jamison has made a career off getting scrappy points and doesn’t need plays run for him.
I’d have a hard time excluding the word “choke” from any column I’d write about a potential series loss in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the Cavs. It’s the front office’s job to put the talent in place and the superstar’s job to lead them from there.
That’s how the NBA works. Finally, Cleveland understands that. The question remains, does James?
Seth Gruen is a sportswriter based in Chicago with experience covering every level of basketball. He can be reached at SethGruen@gmail.com.