I'm not going to say this was the way I thought the Cavs would play because it isn't. I thought Love would be the primary scorer, LeBron the defensive wizard and LeBron and Kyrie switching off play making duties. I won't shy away from what I thought because I said it in a Buddy Ball notes column just a week and a half ago. You readers have memories too astute for me to pretend that wasn't my image for greatness.
The crux of my thinking remains intact, though, as it is based around the simple idea that LeBron should be the player sacrificing the most for this team. That's not going to be a popular idea for every NBA fan because just as recently as last year (or two years ago, depending on your opinion), LeBron was the best basketball player in the world. He's still somewhere in the top three, so expecting him to sacrifice seems ridiculous on the surface.
From a basketball standpoint, the proof is in the pudding. On Monday morning, Mark Stein said in his Power Rankings that the Cavs are 6-0 when LeBron passes 70 or more times and 5-7 when he has 69 or fewer. That's a fairly simple statistic that explains a key component to the Cavs' recent success. They have so much scoring talent that the team is better when LeBron creates for others. They're a better team when LeBron worries less about his own scoring and more about the scoring of his teammates.
Sure, he's going to get his, too. Let's be realistic here. This is LeBron James (he still has the highest PPG on this team after all). But if his current PPG average of 24.6 holds, that will be his lowest outside his rookie season. 2.1 PPG lower than his next lowest points output.
He's averaging 7.9 APG, which would be the second highest of his career, but even that is misleading. Over the Cavs' seven game winning streak, he's averaged 9.72 APG. He began the season with fairly pedestrian assist totals while the Cavs were trying to force Kyrie into an uncomfortable prototypical point guard role before exploding for 11 assists against Denver in the fifth game of the season.
Yet all of that is beside my point. It's apparently good for the team that LeBron has given up some of his scoring to let Kyrie and Love flourish more, but for me, that's just the delicious frosting on top of a well-cooked steak. I wanted LeBron to play this way regardless.
Despite Kyrie being the holdover star for this Cavs team, this is LeBron's team. And it's not just his team because he's the best player on his team. It is his hometown team. He said he was coming back to win for Northeast Ohio, so I took that to mean he wasn't coming back to win for himself. I took that to mean he would sacrifice any part of his game he needed to sacrifice in order to make guys like Kyrie and Love (especially) happy.
That probably isn't fair. Superstar NBA players aren't altruistic genies, here to selflessly give, give and only give to the fans of their respective teams. Not even LeBron, who I believe means it more than anyone when he does say he wants to win a title for his city.
I know it isn't fair to hold LeBron to his letter. Or hold him to his "We're doing this for Cleveland!" Nike commercial. I realize that to LeBron, the things he says in that letter and that commercial are secondary to his personal glory and marketing.
But back in the 2009-10 season, he said he wouldn't stop until he brings Cleveland a championship. Fair or not, I held him to a higher standard then, and now that he's back, I hold him to the highest standard. He made a contract with Cleveland fans when he said that. I'm holding him to that contract and more.
I expect LeBron -- more than anybody else -- to worry about keeping Love happy enough that Love stays in Cleveland next year. I expect him to try his hardest on defense even when nobody else is defending. I expect him to carry the team and not pout when everything else is failing. I expect him to back up Coach Blatt's every idea and move.
Some of these things he has been doing. Some of these things have been leading to wins, so I would assume he will continue to do them as long as they continue to lead to wins. I hope that stays true. I hope we see it taken to a further extreme.
The situation wasn't exactly the same, but Dwayne Wade set a precedent for conceding glory to another player. LeBron was happy to let Wade be the guy on the HEAT in the 2010-11 season. After all, it was Wade's team just like these Cavs are LeBron's. Wade played well enough that he could have pridefully held onto his same role, but he famously told LeBron if the HEAT were going to win a title, LeBron had to make the team his.
Of course, LeBron was the best player in the world at the time, but it's easy to forget the kind of franchise talent Wade was back then. It wouldn't have been outrageous for Wade to cling to his lead role on his own team. And now it's LeBron's turn to concede his primary scoring role to two players who impact the game the most with their scoring ability.
I believe it's best for basketball reasons, but there's also a sadistic part of me that expects LeBron to sacrifice the most because he said he is trying to win for Cleveland. Love? Kyrie? They're just trying to win anywhere, so keep them happy. LeBron? He's the one who should bleed if any bleeding needs to be done.
I know it isn't fair, but I'm holding him to the things he said. I'm holding him to a higher ideal than everyone else. It just so happens that may be what's best for the team, too.