Believe me, I hate to say it… like every member of the English-speaking world who isn’t from Miami (wait, that’s contradictory… I said English-speaking world) the events of the past year have made me certain that LeBron James is a total scumbag. He ditched his long-suffering hometown (OK, Akron is his hometown, but close enough); he did it in such a cruel and public way that he made the betrayal 10x worse; he decided he’d rather play on Dwayne Wade’s team than build his own. But the way the 2010-11 NBA season has played out has shown he had more than a minor beef about the way the Cavs were built, and was probably justified in jumping ship.
On Monday, the Cavs set an NBA-record with their 25th straight loss… their record is a pathetic 8-44 (.154).
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat own the third-best record in the NBA at 38-14 (.731). More pertinently, the Cavs record at this point last year was 41-11 (.788).
That’s a drop-off of 64% with essentially the same team, minus the most important piece. While the Cavs were obviously destined for a fall without Bron-Bron, this is ridiculous.
The NBA is a star’s league… the team with the best player usually wins, at least in a playoff series (although what defines “best” is up for debate). However, equally important are the second- and third-best players on the team. Magic never won without Kareem and Nixon/Worthy; Bird had McHale and Parish; MJ got six titles with Pippen and Grant/Rodman; Kobe had Shaq/Horry and Gasol/Odom. The only recent NBA champion I can think of without a genuine alpha-dog is the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons… although maybe it’s just that Ben Wallace is the only defensive stud to carry his team to a championship (a.k.a. Ray Lewis in the NFL).
You’re never going to win a championship with a second-best player pretending to be an alpha dog. However, you should be able to be respectable. Of all the stupid things that Jerry Krause did as G.M. of the Chicago Bulls (in all fairness to that fat fuck, he also did some great things), blowing the team up after Jordan and Phil Jackson left may have been the worst. Instead of keeping Scottie Pippen and building around him, Krause decided to start from scratch to prove he could completely build a team (winning percentages after Jordan: .260, .207, .183, .256, .366, forced retirement). I could never understand why he didn’t keep Pippen, build the team through the draft with him as facilitator/tutor, keep them in the hunt for a low playoff-seed, and try to entice a star to come play with a guy who’d proven himself as a great second-banana. Instead, we got Brent Barry, perhaps the worst best player on any NBA team ever.
Let’s look at the Cavs rosters for the last two years:
C – Last year they had an aged Shaq, with Anderson Varejao as his backup. This year, they got 31 games out of Varejao before losing him for the season to a torn tendon; now they’re forced to play J.J. Hickson as their center (Shaq moved on to the Celtics).
PF – Antawn Jamison arrived in February last year as Cleveland’s big mid-season move… he remains the Cavs PF. This season is showing that although he’s only four seasons removed from an All-Star berth, he shouldn’t be even the third-best player on a team.
SF – LeBron James got replaced by rookie Christian Eyenga, at least after they were forced to shuffle Hickson to center because of the Varejao injury. Obviously, a drop-off of epic proportions.
SG – Last year, it was Anthony Parker backed by Delonte West (who has also moved on to the Celtics… probably for the best, since the final nail in the coffin was that he (reportedly) banged LeBron’s mom). This year, it’s Daniel Gibson (last year’s backup PG) backed by Parker. Mediocrity all the way around.
PG – Mo Williams (the Cavs second-best player last year) was the starter last year and this year, until a hip injury sidelined him after 39 games… they’ve been filling in with Ramon Sessions until his imminent return.
Coach – Mike Brown got replaced by Byron Scott this year… probably a slight upgrade.
Granted, after Game 39 or so, the Cavs have been playing without Williams and Varejao… however, their record at that point was 8-31 (.205).
So, their precipitous decline occurred with their second- and third-best players from last year (starting PG Williams and PF Jamison); their best center (you could make an argument, but I’d take Varejao over Shaq at this point… obviously Shaq’s absence hurts their depth greatly, though); a slightly better coach; and essentially the same SG situation. The only significant drop-off/change is at LeBron’s spot.
That means that after having LeBron for seven seasons (all of them All-Star caliber; the last two as league MVP), the best that owner Dan Gilbert and GM Danny Ferry (who ended his five-year tenure last June) could do was put together a supporting cast that has now set a record for NBA futility. And while you could make the case that most true NBA superstars stayed with the same team (except for centers, who move tend to move around more… see: Shaq, Kareem, Wilt, Dwight in two years), none of them have had to be surrounded by such crap for so long. Magic, Bird, MJ, Duncan, Hakeem, etc. all had strong supporting casts from almost the beginning. And Kobe… we forget now, but in the fallow period between Shaq and Gasol, Bryant demanded to be traded and was an eyelash away from becoming a Chicago Bull.
Loyalty is great, and LeBron betrayed himself as another sheltered athlete who doesn’t know how to treat people. But athletic careers are short and unpredictable. This season has shown that any flashes of decentness we may have seen in the Cavs supporting cast was completely LeBron’s reflected light. That Cavs management couldn’t surround him with a better team is unacceptable… that the Cavs had an NBA-best 61 wins last year is perhaps the strongest testament to James’ greatness (although, again, some of the blame has to fall on James… he refused to commit to the Cavs, which made it harder to get good free agents to move to The Cleve… they knew that he probably wasn’t there for the long-term).
However, that traitorous fuck better not steal the MVP from D-Rose.