Foes wondering if LeBron’s approach still works

LeBron James and the Cavaliers have won three straight games.

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.”

9 Comments on "Foes wondering if LeBron’s approach still works"

  1. Great article Sam, I get the feeling he simply doesn’t trust his teammates to get it done on the offensive end. I will be an interested observer when IT finally hits the court, maybe, hopefully, we wont see LBJ handling so much of the ball. I find it quite annoying to be honest, especially the amount of needless turnovers he is responsible for.

  2. As a life long Cavs and basketball fan i had been drowning in a lot of BS over recent years. It has mainly to do with the way LJ is sold to fans, and how he lets that effect the way he plays and acts.

    With this article, i can breathe easy again. . This article does what no other media is really doing right now. Its pointing out the elephant in the room. It is stating exactly what the emperor is not wearing.

    I thank Sam Amico. I thank the player(s) and exec(s) who spoke the truth and who understand the big picture of how beautiful this game is and can be. I thank Kyrie Irving because he sacrificed and did right by the basketball gods too.

    Now that somebody with a platform has finally said these things, I am breathing fresh air again. I can stop getting so frustrated now, knowing now that others are seeing the same thing.

    The NBA has a bright future for fans, with a ton of new young talent, its in good hands!

  3. I have no problem with LBJ taking shots at Phil Jackson, whose treatment of Carmelo was awful, who drove the Knicks into oblivion with his antiquated Triangle offense, who is a legend in his own mind. Fire away! But there was no need to take a backhanded swipe at Frank N, the NY rookie, to insult Phil. And then for LBJ to stand over Frank at the Garden was a bad look, too. Kanter did the right thing by confronting LeBron, standing up for Frank. So this whole sequence makes LBJ look bad, even though I think Phil Jackson is a lousy person.

    The points about LeBron’s leadership are valid at this point. This team sucks. I was disappointed Kyrie left, but it makes perfect sense now. I mean, look at the Celtics, and they clearly won the trade. Ainge fleeced Koby Altman. They should have shipped Kyrie to Phoenix for E Bled. Now the Celtics are poised to make a Finals run, while the Cavs have turned the Q into a nursing home. Kyrie also took a shot at T Lue, saying how he always wanted to play for “an intellectual” coach, i.e., Brad Stevens. I have maintained all along that T Lue is a simple-minded guy, more like the pushover babysitter who lets the eldest kid, LeBron, dictate all that happens on the court. It’s a tough spot for Lue, because LeBron, while not as bad as Kobe in that respect, will only defer to a coach as great as Popovich.

    • Wow you are nuts 14 gms in season with tons of new players and guys get hurt and we have a star point guard still rehabbing please just become a Boston fan we Clevelanders demand loyalty

      • Point taken about Isaiah not back yet, but we have no idea how he will play upon returning from injury. Experts say he has a 50-50 chance of coming back healthy. That’s a major risk as far as trade value. Crowder gets a pass because he is mourning for the loss of his mother and adapting to a new life in Cleveland. Boston has mostly new players, an injured all-star in Hayward, and a 13 game winning streak to show for it. I’d say Celtics have a coach light years ahead of Mr. Lue. Celtics got younger and hungrier and added a healthy super star in Kyrie. They play amazing defense. Kerr calls them the team of the future in the East. Meanwhile, Cavs defense is ranked 30th, and their 3 point defense is ranked 29th. Their defense will not improve, just like last year. February will be horrible. They will turn it on at the last second, continue to be plagued by injuries (oldest team in the NBA). I am loyal. I will follow and watch every game. But I am realistic that this season is looking awfully shaky. And there is zero chance they beat GSW without major roster changes.

  4. Stanley Clobberhosten | November 15, 2017 at 10:11 am | Reply

    I think almost everything written summarizes what we’ve all noticed.

    Its difficult to evaluate Ty Lue, when he’s castrated as an empowered head coach. He saw what happened to Blatt, and knows he’ll be shown the door if James turns on “the coach he got” right now.

    Its what you get with Lebron’s on court talent–a player coach dictating play. But there’s still a need for a legit empowered coach on the bench.

    There’s pro and con. This little arrangement can play in only one city, Cleveland and that’s the main (and strongest) argument James will remain in Cleveland. But it also means you’d never see a coach here like Stevens or Pop or Van Gundy etc. They would never put up with a lack of effort from a 25 million superstar on the defensive end, and indifference about regular season games.

  5. LeBron is getting frustrated with this team and is acting like a child about it but any Cleveland fan should be used to that. Anyone would be frustrated with the lack of play from the starters around them because they suck. When you watch the games LeBron is trying to get his teammates involed early not shooting that much and when all his teammates fail to do anything then he tries to take over. His frustrations with his teammates are spilling over to the court with his lazy play and it is out of frustration he does so. Cleveland had high expectations for this year but letting Griffin go hurt this teams chances to make the moves they needed to. LeBron knows that and he has what he has right now and I also think he wanted Bledsoe to lighten his load hince the aurther meme. The bench has been great the starting five horrible. LeBron media BS has been a constant problem that’s why I always look forward to the Playoffs so he shuts all that down and we can just play basketball. Maybe all the nonsense will stop if he gets some teammates that will actually put forth some effort. LeBron has always had his way in Cleveland and I would like to see need season where we had a real coach and he would actually listen. Lue isn’t a great coach you can see it everything that needs fixed never gets fixed even with the other players that aren’t named LeBron. So Cleveland has to pick their poison I guess I really don’t know where they go from here.

  6. Cavs’ problem is the starting lineup. Korver needs to start. Shumpert and Crowder need to come off the bench. Crowder is too small to start at PF, let alone guard 7 footers. Love cannot start at center. Maybe Love needs to come off the bench? For now, it seems that starting Frye at center is our only option because Love is too small to ever play center, especially against teams like NY who start two 7 footers… For now, LeBron is the starting PG, not Shumpert. At least until Thomas is healthy. Stick with what works. Look at the lineup that came back against NY….. Wade, Smith, Korver, LeBron and Frye… it’s that simple… Why can’t Lue see this?

    • I agree with you that Korver should be starting even though he is one of the oldest players we have he brings energy on both ends of the floor. Korver is always moving and it helps the others on the floor when Korver is out there with the constant three ball threat moving in and out of screens. As far as Love at center he is horrible at that position he is bad on both ends there if Cleveland would go get a true center so Love could could play that in and out like normal he would probably be much better. As far as Crowder and Shumpert I wouldn’t mind trading the both of them Shumpert has always thought he is better than what he actually is and Crowder was supposed to be the 3 and D guy we were looking for but hadn’t shown he can get it done on either end this season. In my opinion Cleveland is going to have to make a move or two to get this team where they need to be. It will change some once we get TT and IT back but it will not be even close enough to win a championship.

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