NBA Preview – Lebron shakes things up

Lebron James Cavs media day

As we watched the San Antonio Spurs demolish the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last season, few could have predicted how that result would lead to a demolition of the Heat roster as well. But we all know now that Lebron James had been thinking of returning to Cleveland for years, but this loss in the Finals led to his decision to leave Miami in the offseason. Had the Heat won, there’s no way Lebron would have passed on the chance to win four titles in a row. He probably would have ended up back in Cleveland eventually, just not this year.

Lebron’s Decision 2.0 had a ripple effect around the league, with Carmelo deciding to stay in New York and Kevin Love ending up in Cleveland to form a new Big Three with Lebron and Kyrie Irving. Lebron has established himself as the most powerful man in basketball in additional to being the world’s best player. But as usual he’s playing for much more – his legacy. Bringing a title to Cleveland would be a huge achievement for him personally, but it would also represent another star on his resume as he tries to break out of Michael Jordan’s long shadow.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. Lebron won two titles in four years in Miami, but his play at crunch time was inconsistent. He was a mess his first year in Miami and he wilted in the Finals, letting the Dallas Mavericks steal a series from the Heat. That failure proved to be an important learning experience, and Lebron’s demeanor changed in year two as he finally led the Heat and earned his first title.

The next year, with Miami’s miraculous win over the Spurs after Ray Allen’s desperation three pointer, Lebron grabbed another title though the quality of his play varied from dominant to mediocre. There were times when he seemed to lose his aggressiveness like he did in the Finals against Dallas, but then he would respond with dominant performances.

By the fourth year, he no longer had the talent around him to help him beat the Spurs and the result was ugly. The Heat braintrust had let Mike Miller go, and Dwyane Wade seemed to age ten years over the span of one season. Chris Bosh was still a critical though unheralded part of that team, but others like Mario Chalmers lost all of their effectiveness. Lebron looked around and realized he could no longer win with these guys, so he left.

Now he’s surrounded again with impressive talent, starting with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, and the Cavs have the opportunity to do something special. As for Lebron, things have changed a lot in the past four years. Being in Cleveland, I remember the happy-go-lucky Lebron from four years ago before the Decision. This Lebron is all business, and he’s setting the tone for the entire team. Hopefully he can maintain that intensity when it comes to the playoffs.

There’s plenty of competition out there will Derrick Rose returning to the Bulls, the Spurs going for a repeat and all of the team in the West. But barring injury the Cavs will likely be in the mix, at least through the Eastern Conference Finals. Just how far they go this year will depend on how well the team gels, the coaching of David Blatt, and most importantly, the play of Lebron James when things get tough in the playoffs.


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