I've said this before and I'll say it again, LeBron James is probably one of the toughest players I've ever had to write about. It's not due to how polarizing he can be to fans and the responses any piece about him seem to generate; it's the struggle to say anything that hasn't been said before. It's trying to figure out exactly what standards he should be held to. His below average performances still tend to be incredibly productive. When he seems disengaged or mailing it in, he still usually turns it on exactly when the team needs him to.
So when you're trying to come up with a way to review his 2014-2015 season, do you gloss over his slow start and poor body language in situations like this:
Or the total disregard for the defensive side of the floor:
Because it was made up for by moments like this:
The fact of the matter is that LeBron James gave absolutely everything he had for the Cavs in the playoffs. The lasting memory of him prior to his return was him walking off the court in the Boston Garden after quitting on the team during the series. This year he battled through injury and exhaustion to will a decimated roster closer to the ultimate prize than any Cavaliers team has ever been. He abandoned his style of play in order to shoulder the load that was necessary for his team to remain competitive. To ask him to do what he did is unfair, to ask for more would be insanity.
When LeBron and the Cavs started last season, they were a group that were learning how to play together while simultaneously trying to teach the younger players how play consistently. They were also trying to undo all the bad habits that had been formed during years of playing for a lottery focused team. James was thought to be the person to lead by example and in the locker-room to help accelerate the process. But to start the year James was clearly not right physically and the effort wasn't there consistently.
James was clearly conserving himself on the defensive side of the floor, and when interviewed by the media about what was wrong with the team he would often seem as though he was referring to the team as a separate entity from himself. That the issues were solely on their end. The task to prepare the team for the playoffs was bigger than anybody anticipated and it took James going on hiatus as well as the trades for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to turn the season around.
The rejuvenated James of the second half of the season was a far cry from his slow start. With a more complete supporting cast and him playing once again like the best player on the planet the Cavs were able to turn the season around and both the team and James began to resemble what was expected out of them.
A year later, LeBron James is still the best player on the planet. What he is capable of doing when he sets his sights on a target is hard to comprehend. He was faced with incredible adversity during the playoffs as the team was dealt curveball after curveball and he sacrificed everything he had to drag the Cavs to within two wins of their first ever championship. He impacts every single aspect of the game and often demonstrates complete control over the tempo and flow of the game. His control over the pace of play was a huge factor in the team's ability to steal two games from the Golden State Warriors in the Finals. With LeBron on your team, anything seems possible. He can be a mystifying personality that pays close attention to how he is perceived on and off the court. But if there's one thing that was made perfectly clear this season, is that he is very different than the LeBron James that was in Cleveland the first time around.
This James showed maturity and accountability. The growing pains were greater than expected for both he and the team and he met that challenge head on. He humbled himself and accepted that he needed to sit out for the better of the team in order to get right physically. He recognized that he needed to lead by example and did just that. The way the team rallied around each other in the playoffs would not have been possible without LeBron showing what true sacrifice is and what it means to give everything in pursuit of a title. He was apparently instrumental in bringing back Kevin Love and has taken his rightful place as the leader of the franchise in every way imaginable.
The demons of the past have been largely exorcised. While LeBron is bound to continue to have moments that leave fans wondering what on earth is going on, there can be no more questioning where his heart and focus truly is. He delivered everything he promised in the letter. He didn't guarantee a championship, he just promised that he would give everything he has to help develop the team and try to bring a championship to North Eastern Ohio. The King is back and as long as he is here, the dream of a championship lives on.