If there’s one thing this NBA season has lacked, it’s some good LeBron drama. The best player in the world earned a much-deserved reprieve from his usual circus this summer, silencing (most) critics with a bananas Finals performance that resulted in a heaping of acclaim typically reserved for Meryl Streep at an awards show.
For those of us who love conflict however, the NBA grew much more interesting this week, with LeBron basically calling out the Cavaliers front office in a mildly profane rant about the team’s need for more playmakers. His comments came in the wake of Cleveland’s sixth loss in January, including defeats to the top two teams in the West. James’s complaints are actually fairly mild compared to the nonsense surrounding the Cavs last season, when they fired their coach midseason, got unfollowed by LeBron on Twitter and generally seemed like a trainwreck until Game 5 of the Finals.
Still, it’s a little interesting that LeBron would go so hard after Cleveland management this week, particularly after David Griffin pulled off a widely praised trade for Kyle Korver. (James did offer his support of "Griff" in some tweets.) What is LeBron really upset about? Let’s talk through some completely unsubstantiated theories.
Theory #1: He Wants Kyrie To Step Up
LeBron’s playmaker comments would be far from the first time he used a public forum to verbally subtweet his teammates. After all, James's first two regular seasons back in Cleveland were basically a massive soap opera about how his new runningmates have so much to learn about becoming a champion. So is it possible that James’s playmaker comments are a subtle dig at Kyrie Irving? Honestly, I’m not really buying my own theory here. Irving is right around his career average in assists, and at this point, he is who he is, which is an incredible scorer capable of going off any night. Complaining about Irving would be kind of silly for James at this point, especially considering that Irving matched him step for step in the Finals, AND he’s hit the game-winning shots in the Cavs’ last two wins over the Warriors. So let’s throw out internal strife as the reason for the playmaker tirade.
Theory #2: The Durant Factor
This is something that maybe holds a little bit of weight. Remember last season when LeBron complained about the Warriors being the hungrier team than the Cavs despite being defending champions? How do you think LeBron felt when Golden State added a top-three player to a 73-win team? While a lot of players claim to have not cared about Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors, on some level, you have to imagine LeBron felt annoyed Golden State made a huge improvement to its roster while Cleveland mostly stood pat. In the Cavs’ defense though, they just don’t have the flexibility to make major waves. The Warriors were obviously greatly aided by the cap spike and Steph Curry’s contract situation. Cleveland had no such luck, with a massive payroll that was unaffected by the cap boom. James is surely smart enough to realize his team was working under a different set of circumstances, but maybe, just maybe, it irks him the Cavs were not able to make a major move.
Theory #3: Mario Chalmers
Maaaaaybe LeBron just wants to play with the greatest point guard of all time again.
Theory #4: LeBron Needs To Do Less
So this is probably the best theory we have: LeBron’s strong reaction to the Cavs’ roster is really a manifestation about the burden he’s been carrying on the court. In Year 14, James is still averaging over 37 minutes per game, with his current average on track to be his highest since his return to Cleveland. LeBron has always walked the tightrope of empowering teammates while also doing everything his team needs to succeed—so he’s earned the right to be frustrated over what’s expected of him every game. But maybe LeBron wouldn’t have had this blowup if TyronnLue simply rested him more during the regular season. In the short term, it’s a lose-lose for LeBron, who faces a fresh round of criticism every time he sits. But Cleveland is going to make the Finals in the East, and will do so realistically no matter where it finishes in the conference. Maybe it’s time for Cleveland to develop a serious resting plan for LeBron, and not just give him the occasional night off here and there. The losses may pile up to an extent, but keeping LeBron’s body and mind fresh could pay big dividends down the line.
Let’s wrap this all up by mentioning some guys who’ve been connected to the Cavs in the wake of Playmakergate. Forbes reported Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Jameer Nelson as guards Cleveland would be interested in. Look, could the Cavs use a backup point guard? For sure. Do any of those guys move the needle in a playoff series? Absolutely not. It’s slim pickings for any NBA team at this point, and unless LeBron wants to play with less All-Stars, it’s always going to be slim pickings for the Cavs. We may never know why exactly James spoke out the way he did (maybe he’s not being cryptic at all!), but one thing LeBron probably knows deep down regardless of his comments? It’s not going to get easier any time soon.