By Griffin Finch
Ever since LeBron James infamously took his talents to South Beach back in 2010 it has been customary that The King finds himself wearing the Eastern Conference crown at the conclusion of the conference finals. It seems like every year we find some reason to doubt that LBJ will make it to another NBA Finals, and every year come June there he is competing for another championship. However this year something is fundamentally different about this edition of a LeBron James lead team.
Whether it was with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami or Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland the recipe for a Lebron team during this historic run has been LeBron James, two all-stars, and shooters. At the beginning of this past summer, it appeared that the championship caliber trifecta of Kyrie, Kevin Love, and The King would remain intact and the Cavaliers could follow the yellow brick road all the way to another finals appearance obliterating every team in the East along the way. Everything changed when Kyrie decided he was tired of playing second fiddle to LeBron and wanted to be the number one option for a team of his own. Cleveland’s front office was presented with a choice. Option A would be to keep the disgruntled Irving on the team for the two years left remaining on his contract or option B: trade him. Credit to Koby Altman for getting what he did for Kyrie. Getting an MVP candidate at the time in Isaiah Thomas, a quality two way player in Jae Crowder, an undeveloped talent in Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first round pick. It seemed like the Cavs had fleeced the Celtics. What unfolded during the season only served to make Danny Ainge look like a mad genius of an executive. The package the Cavs received for their all-star point guard was full of nothing but problems the Celtics front office must have been thrilled to pawn off on their Eastern Conference rivals. First, Crowder went on to have one of the worst seasons of his career and is now on the bench for the Utah Jazz. The Nets while are still bad, are not nearly as bad as had been anticipated so their pick isn’t as valuable. Worst of all, Isaiah Thomas was injured for half the season and when he came back he wasn’t himself and created chemistry issues for a team already struggling. Long story short he is now on the Lakers bench. These problems forced the Cavs into complete roster overhaul at the trade deadline. Now the Cleveland squad doesn’t follow the proven championship recipe. Right now its LeBron, K-Love, a couple of shooters and a handful of quality role players. The question for this postseason is will the supporting cast without a second all-star be enough for LeBron to get back to the Eastern Conference throne.
In years past, when we’ve had our doubts about the King we could always rely on the fact that Lebron religiously coasts through the regular season and then introduces his doubters to the monster that is “Playoff Lebron” when the postseason arrives. Part of coasting through the season usually entailed him taking significant time off and not playing as many minutes in certain games. However this year at the age of 33, LeBron led the league in minutes played and for the first time in his illustrious career played all 82 games. In game one against the Pacers, it was clear that despite not attempting a shot in the first quarter that Playoff Lebron had arrived. The King dropped 24 points 10 boards and 12 assists for the triple-double in 44 minutes of play. The rest of the Cavs failed to show up to help their leader as they lost by 18 at home. With the miles on his legs and the less than ideal team constructed around him, we are no longer questioning whether LeBron will make it to the finals. The way the Pacers dominated in game one we are questioning whether The King will have enough in the tank to get his team out of the first round.
LeBron James has pretty much been the best player in the league since he was drafted straight out of high school 15 years ago. He is currently 20th on the all-time minutes played list with over 44,000 minutes played. Combine that with his team not being up to snuff and it is a real possibility that The King’s reign in the East may be over.