LeBron James is, and perhaps always will be, everything for the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is nothing new - his return to Cleveland completely reinvigorated a Cavs team dwindling at the bottom of the league - and without him, the Cavs were never going to be as good as they are right now.
In some ways, though, LeBron's greatness is changing. In years past - particularly in the years he was a berserker reincarnated with the Miami Heat - LeBron could dominate the game any way he wanted. If he wanted to score, he could drive the lane whenever he wanted and if he wanted to sit back and pull the strings, he could. On most nights, he did both while also being the best defensive player on the floor, at least when he was fully engaged.
Last year, as he hit age 30, LeBron was more human than he'd ever been. From him, with a historical amount of minutes already played, playing as much as he had in years past and trying to dominate as much as he had in years past. Early in the year, maybe in due part to his weight loss over the summer, he really wasn't the LeBron everyone expected. He really wasn't the LeBron everyone expected until he returned from his two week sabbatical in Miami.
Just look at his shot chart from the 2011-12 regular season, the one year he didn't win the MVP between 2009 and 2013 even though he probably should have:
This was LeBron's shot chart from last season:
As the shot chart shows, LeBron wasn't quite as good at the rim and there are fewer spots on the floor where LeBron was simply dominant. And for the year, LeBron was different. He played the fewest total number of minutes sans the lockout shortened 2011-12 season and posted the lowest 2P% of his career since the 2011-12 season.
At the same time, LeBron averaged 7.4 assists per 36 minutes - the second highest per 36 average of his career - while also posting the second highest AST% of his career. Both numbers were higher than any of his totals in Miami and there's reason for this. In Cleveland, LeBron at times deferred to Kyrie Irving to handle the ball, create for others and dictate the offense. And due to Irving's skill as an isolation scorer - Irving ranked in 95th percentile of isolation scorers last year - LeBron simply doesn't have to do as much. On top of that, Irving and LeBron were basically co-point guards last year. Per Nylon Calculus' 'point guard' personalities stats, LeBron and Irving were on the ball almost the exact same amount of possessions last season.
The next step in this evolution is to incorporate Kevin Love into the offense. A year ago, with LeBron still operating as the one offensive center, Love was primarily a spot-up shooter and wasn't really put in the spots he's best at. The result was a Cavs offense that very good, but somewhat predictable.
LeBron himself has said that we will see Love used in different ways moving forward and the idea of him cutting off the ball while Love draws attention off of him - or simply gets more room because of LeBron's presence - is intriguing. It offers the Cavs a clear path to increased offensive variety without asking any of the core players to completely change their game. A trio of LeBron, Irving and Love handing off the reigns of the offense to one another is potentially unguardable.
There will be a day sometime in the near future where LeBron simply can't keep up his mammoth workload, but that day isn't upon LeBron yet. This is especially true if he takes another break (maybe not ideal) or even give him nights off on the second half of back-to-backs. It helps that, at least in the theory, the Cavs are constructed to give LeBron rest. Modifying the offense would help too. This all matters for the 82 game regular season and the expected run toward a title. If LeBron can take on a smaller burden leading up until May and June before turning up his gear another notch, that's a positive.
This all isn't to say that what LeBron was last year wasn't great, because he was. Very few players, if any, could have shouldered the work load he did in the playoffs after both Love and Irving went down. Even with the NBA featuring a ton of elite players - Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, etc. - LeBron is still at the head of the class for now.
As long he's around - or at least as long he's physically capable and willing to dominate and dictate - LeBron is going to be great. His greatness is just changing.
Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that LeBron James turned 31 last year when he actually turned 30. FtS apologizes for the error.