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Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James likes to win his way, which makes him no different than any other all-time NBA great.
“LeBron could never play for Golden State, and Golden State probably wouldn’t want him,” one opposing team executive told Amico Hoops.
Why is that?
“Because the Warriors like to keep things moving,” the exec said. “That’s not LeBron’s game.”
James prefers to handle the ball, survey the floor, and then attack with a drive or a dish. It can lead to a lot of standing, his teammates often watching and waiting as he contemplates his next move.
This isn’t anything new.
When James was making all those runs to the Finals with the Miami Heat, coach Erik Spoelstra secretly told point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole not to inbound the ball to James. The belief was James wouldn’t pass the ball back, choosing instead to bring it up and start the offense himself.
Or perhaps more accurately, run the offense as he saw fit.
James’ so-called hijacking of the ball, and the offense, can often lead to the point guard running up the floor, sliding over to the wing and wearing a look of confusion — and maybe frustration.
Without a doubt, James is the game’s greatest player, a do-everything forward who has carried his teams to seven straight Finals, winning three championships along the way.
But his style may have cost him a sidekick, as James’ dominance of the ball is supposedly one reason Kyrie Irving now plays for the Boston Celtics.
“The more you watch Kyrie (this season), the more it looks like he made the right call,” the exec said. “He is playing easy and free — his game. His team is winning and he is the talk of the league. Aside from the winning, none of these things would be happening for Kyrie in Cleveland, not as long as LeBron is there. He looks much happier.”
LEBRON AND LUE
Now comes a report, from Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, that suggested Cavs coach Tyronn Lue and James may be having some differences.
Again, if true, this is not a huge surprise. The relationship between coaches and super-duper stars has always been a tricky trail in the NBA, dating back to when Magic Johnson demanded a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981. The reason? Magic could no longer stomach Paul Westhead, the coach who took Magic and the Lakers to a title.
James and Lue are hardly at that point, or anywhere close. Or so it seems.
But as Vardon pointed out, James was among the players Lue briefly benched in the third quarter of the Cavs’ come-from-behind win over the New York Knicks on Monday.
“Lue’s praise of James has been sparse this season, in spite of James’ off-the-charts offensive production,” Vardon wrote. “He’s tried to steer the discussion away from James in his public comments, and he’s thrown some thinly veiled jabs at James in the past few weeks.”
The Cavs (7-7) are struggling, and even after winning three of four, just now hit .500. They have been extremely uneven while getting there.
They sometimes defend, they sometimes play hard, they sometimes move the ball and take good shots. But sometimes, they don’t.
“A team only goes as far as its leader takes it,” the exec said. “Sometimes, LeBron isn’t interested. Hell, he basically admits that every time he says, ‘It’s only October.’ If he is saying that, then his teammates will think it and play like it, too.”
One opposing player said he would struggle to be a teammate of James for that reason and more.
“You mean you’re only going to play hard when it suits you? That’s the message you’re sending to your teammates?” the player said to Amico Hoops. “That’s really never OK.”
The player backtracked a bit, admitting that James “sure puts up great numbers for someone who acts so casual” about winning early in the season.
“I don’t know if I could play with him, though” the player concluded. “As a leader, he sends a lot of mixed messages. Sounds like his coach is getting tired of it now, too.”
LEBRON AND PHIL
Along with all that, James has privately come under fire from current and retired players for his recent shots at Phil Jackson, the former Knicks president who won a combined 11 titles as coach of the Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
While Jackson and James’ camp have had their differences — most stemming from Jackson once referring to James’ large marketing team as his “posse” — many seem to think James should have let it go by now.
“Grow up, bro,” the player said, in response to James’ recent criticism of Jackson. “Be the better man. You’re a leader, a face of the league. It’s OK to have your opinions, but there’s a time and a place. How many times has LeBron tried to reach out to Phil? Your team is having (issues). Focus on fixing that.”
The player later added, “Phil has done a lot for our league, and he has a lot of people in his corner on this.”
James, of course, has plenty of people in his corner, too. While every star makes enemies, a lot of the younger players, both in Cleveland and across the league, wildly admire James and even attempt to mimic his playing style.
Not surprisingly, James has been as brilliant as ever — perhaps more as both he and his supporting cast have gotten up there in NBA age.
He is fifth in the league in scoring (28.1 ppg) and fourth in assists (career-high 8.8 ppg). He is also shooting a sizzling 58 percent from the field and pulling down 7.6 rebounds a night.
There is no doubt, the man remains a basketball monster. He can gobble up the opposition, spit it out, then leave the arena with a smile on his face and snarky post on his Instagram account.
But James appears to be in a new stage of his career, a stage where he is drawing some criticism, complaints and frustration from some of those around him — and in order for him to remain on or near the top, he may need to alter his approach, both on the court and off.
“I’d think he would at least consider some things, consider trying to find new ways to win,” the exec said. “You lost one really great teammate. Your team is losing. What you used to do isn’t working. You don’t want to alienate everyone around you. It’s pretty clear his team needs him now more than ever.”