With a flurry of trades reshaping the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster, LeBron James may want to do some reading up on Michael and the Jordanaires.
That is what basketball fans called the Chicago Bulls nearly 30 years ago, when the team consisted of superstar Michel Jordan and a less-than-superstarry supporting cast. Yet the Bulls kept winning anyway.
Today, James and the Cavs are in a similar situation. There is no Kyrie Irving or Isaiah Thomas. In fact, the only other All-Star on the roster, Kevin Love, is out with a broken hand and not expected back until late March.
Love’s replacement? Rookie Cedi Osman, who was barely playing just a few weeks ago. Now, Osman starts. Unlike Love, Osman is not a power forward. Some may tell you Osman isn’t a forward at all, that he’s actually more suited for guard.
All we really know is Osman isn’t Love, and for right now, that’s OK.
We also know newcomer George Hill doesn’t come with the spotlight reserved for flashy point guards such as Irving and Thomas. That too is OK.
As long as James is on the team, the Cavs (33-22) will always have a chance. But with newcomers Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Hill, the Cavs have become a team of one true super-duper star, and a bunch of people who hope to rise to fame by playing off of him.
That’s different than when the Cavs had Irving or Thomas or Dwyane Wade or Derrick Rose. Combined all of those men have accomplished a lot, with at Irving and perhaps Thomas still capable of accomplishing plenty more.
But since June, the Cavs’ roster has been a wild ride of trades, free-agent signings, more trades and endless lineup changes. The one constant light who always shines bright?
That’s right. The man they call the basketball king.
James seems to like it this way, at least so far. Since the trades, he has appeared rejuvenated, as if he’s really enjoying playing the game again. He likes being the man with the ball in his hands — both during the course of the game, when he’s operating against opposing defenses and delivering to teammates, and with the outcome in the balance.
LESS IS MORE
Gone are the other big names, and perhaps some hidden (or very obvious) agendas. Some players were simply miscast. Some seemed to care mostly about their brands.
But with all the newness, the Cavs — who have made three straight trips to The Finals — have almost turned into The Little Engine That Could.
“The new guys are very excited about this opportunity, and it’s my job to keep them excited about being here,” James said. “They’re joining something that, obviously, the last couple months, hadn’t been what we expected.”
Of course, that’s not something the new players seem to find find bothersome. Why would they? They weren’t around for any of it.
“I’m a big believer that if you continue to look at your past, you’ll trip over the future,” Hill said. “I don’t care what happened before. We’re here to start something new.”
Something new? Win, lose or draw, that is precisely what these Cavs have become.
Yes, there are other mainstays besides James. Love, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson have all rode with LeBron since his return in 2014. Kyle Korver was part of the team last season. Osman, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon came on board at the start of the year.
And coach Tyronn Lue took over during the championship run of 2016.
But it’s James who offers the greatest hope. Always has. It’s just that now, it’s more clear than ever.
“So it’s my job as the leader of this team to make sure that I acclimate the new four guys to be around a culture that’s built on winning and practicing championship habits,” James said, sounding quite Jordan-like. “That’s it.”