LeBron Just Doesn’t Get It

By Joe Kotoch

After one of the most entertaining NBA Finals in recent memories where neither team ran away with a game the Dallas Mavericks clinched the title on Miami’s home court in Game 6. Throughout much of the series LeBron James struggled on the court shooting and facilitating and fading in the 4th quarter. After seemingly turning the page on being clutch with impressive performances on both ends of the court versus the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. Heading into the matchup against Dallas the Heat were perceived as the favorites and many predicted Miami winning the Finals in 4 or 5 games. (PBD predicted 5).

Throughout the series Dallas was overmatched trying to defend LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh and were forced to use a zone to limit Miami’s ability to penetrate. This strategy resulted in LeBron James often distributing to teammates or settling for jump shots. Unlike in the previous two series LeBron was not hitting his jumper. What became more apparent as the series progressed was that LeBron seemed affected by the pressure of the moment and corresponding scrutiny from the media. For much of his career LeBron has been among the league leaders in 4th quarter scoring but Miami was only able to get 18 points over six games from James. During the Finals LeBron averaged nearly 9 fewer points per game than during the regular season. Every post game press conference win or lose LeBron seemed uncomfortable with the volume of questions about his mental toughness, desire to win, and whether he was shrinking in the moment. It appears that every second half or 4th quarter LeBron was defiant trying to show the media, fans, and everyone else that he would defer to a teammate because it was the smart play. Ironically, all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson all disregarded the right basketball plays in order to assert their will and impact a game. That is something the LeBron was never willing to do.

As the tide of momentum shifted and it became a true dog fight the media stopped asking whose team it was; it was clear Dwayne Wade was the alpha dog for the Heat. Shockingly, Chris Bosh appeared to be the second best player on the Heat at times during the Finals even when LeBron and Wade were on the court too. Wade again looked like the most explosive and ferocious player on the court just as in 2006 but unlike when Miami won the title Wade was forced to share the rock with LeBron and it diluted Wade’s game-changing ability. All series Wade slashed and gashed the Mavericks any time he wanted, he got to the rim at will drew fouls, and even hit clutch jumpers which were all things LeBron never was able to do.

Unfortunately for LeBron and the Heat they played a relatively injury-free season and an additional 21 physical playoff games. While James has always been indestructible on the court Wade has been much more mortal in his career missing significant parts of the season and getting nicked up more frequently. Deep playoff runs add wear to the tires if you don’t believe that look at Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett. Wade’s odometer has a lot of city-miles on it and closing in on 30 won’t help. Further complicating LeBron’s ability to deliver on his promise of a dynasty is the impending CBA that likely will include a hard cap within a few seasons that would force Miami to break up their Big 3.

For LeBron and his inner circle, primarily Maverick Carter, they need to go back to the drawing board and take a long hard look in the mirror. Through honest self-reflection LeBron will realize he is most at fault for this series loss and that he must solve his mental gaffes. For years the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans knew LeBron was a freakish athlete that preferred to be on the perimeter but his steadfast reluctance and refusal to develop a post-game is alarming. James has spent every offseason of his professional career working on his skills and strengthening certain aspects of his game like his jumper, range, and defense but he has also stubbornly refused to work on his weaknesses like his midrange game and post-game. Looking back any advisor who cares about LeBron and his legacy needs to implore him that until he takes advantages of defenders in the post his game will have a massive hole that will be exploited in the playoffs.

While James postgame press conference was buffoonish he should’ve taken accountability rather than turn his venom on his anti-fans. LeBron is smart and he will eventually understand that he cannot say those things or anything else definitive that can be used against him. Many players in the NBA think big and have delusions of grandeur but are disciplined enough not to say it out loud. People would have sympathized with James had he been accountable and acknowledged his struggles but as has been his way throughout his career LeBron refused to. In years past James’ failures have led to tirades within the Cavs organization that have resulted in shakeups and trades. At some point LeBron needs to man up and take accountability which will start the restoration of his severely damaged ego and image.

Simply put the frustration of missing out on another title and being recognized as the “Ring-less King” are taking its toll on James psyche. The good news is LeBron still is only 26 and has several years of dominant basketball in him but until he starts caring about basketball more than being a global icon James postseason failures will likely continue, which could jeopardize his standing among the all-time greats in NBA history and tarnish his legacy.