It’s all about LeBron James…
What has to happen for LeBron James to finish this off and get to the Finals for the 7th straight time?
C.J. Hampshire: It’s funny how the narrative never changes when you are LeBron James. This time of year the silly season is upon us. ‘Can LeBron and the worst team in Division 1 win the NCAA title?’. LeBron and his team have to have health and they cannot be a defending champ that has apathy. But there is one great team in the East because there is one transformational player. The Cavs have to be careful though. Despite the aesthetics, they are not invincible.
Brendan Gillespie: Can they stay healthy? That’s their biggest opponent. Rebounding, keeping Love involved in everything they do when he returns, rebounding the ball and the ‘others’ like Derrick Williams, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye.
Mallory Stith-Wheat: Doc Rivers was right, you need luck. The ball has to bounce his way. LeBron has been the best NBA player the past decade and the most overworked. Not to hate but he has four NBA Finals losses. So it is possible. Favorable matchups in the playoffs help so he doesn’t get too exhausted.
Julian Billick: I think he can get it done. He thrusts the Superman cape over his shoulders and the city of Cleveland is tagging behind him with hopeful breath waiting for a repeat. Just think about it. Seven straight trips to the Finals. That’s unprecedented, particularly with the league getting better.
Who gets the credit: LeBron or Ty Lue?
Mallory: 60% Lue, 40% LeBron. Lue has a difficult job because he has to strike a middle ground. He has to care about the season but not over emphasize the losses. Last season Lue did an excellent job at getting LeBron to check his privilege at the door, restore the confidence in Kevin Love and systematically create a strategy for Kyrie, knowing that he is one of the worst defensive guards in the league. He had do all this under pressure. This year it is not treading water, he has to find new ways to keep the same energy but not have the team tune him out.
Julian Billick: LeBron still gets most of the credit because he is out there on the floor. He is the team leader. What he says goes. How he approaches the game, his teammates, his role, all of it trickles down to the least common denominator. For Lue’s part, he had to get everyone’s attention, even passive-aggressive LeBron who is the moodiest superstar on record.
C.J.: This is the thing. LeBron erased his leverage when he came back to his hometown. He’s not leaving. So then it’s all about basketball and no one wants to hear his excuses. Ty Lue is making a name for himself in his very young career because he has shown an ability to handle the LeBron fugue. They split the credit 50-50.
Brendan Gillespie: LeBron gets the credit because if he doesn’t buy in to Lue, this is a disaster.
Is LeBron’s Finals loss history now a forgotten tale? Does three titles absolve him? Does he have to get to 4 or 5?
Brendan: Pretty much forgotten. Yes he lost four times. Had that Kyrie three not gone in it might be five times. That’s how it goes. It is not how many you lose, it is how many you win. Magic lost four times. No one ever talks about that.
Julian: It shouldn’t matter, his record, but this is the era of hyper-evaluation where numbers are used as a way to define, explain and justify a player’s significance. He came back from 3-1 and won a game 7 on the road. All is forgiven.
Mallory: This question is so unfair because on the one hand you should be judged on your ability to overcome adversity and pressure and use your skill and lead your team to the championship trophy. Athletes of LeBron’s caliber are judged differently. But on the other hand we say- this is not an individual sport. All those great champions who came before LeBron also had great teams. But at the end of the day we don’t judge Michael Jordan by Steve Kerr. We judge Michael Jordan by Michael Jordan and those six rings.
C.J.: It’s totally fair. He is supposed to be the greatest player of his generation. Every great player of their generation dominated in the Finals. Kobe and Duncan did. MJ and Olajuwon did. Magic and Bird did. Can’t rewrite the rules for LeBron because he has so many MVP’s.
How many Finals Appearances in a Row for LeBron? He is at 6 right now.
Mallory: I’ll say 9. This year and two years after. Then the decline starts.
Julian: 7. At some point his body is going to quit. I think this year will be his last of that streak.
Brendan: 8. I think he is going for the Cavs three-peat, join MJ and Kobe and then it will end there.
C.J.: I am the outlier. I think his streak ends at 6. I don’t think the Cavs make it back to the Finals. Either Love isn’t healthy or they get upset by the Wiz.
What odds do you give LeBron this year to tie Shaq with 4 titles?
Julian: 40%. The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard who have a way of turning LeBron into an inefficient scorer. And the Warriors have Draymond Green. The Cavs health is still fluid as far as I’m concerned. I have to see a healthy Kevin Lve
Brendan: 65%. I trust LeBron James more than I trust Kevin Durant. The Spurs have overachieved because of Kawhi but in the Finals he and LeBron cancel each other out which leaves the Kyrie problem for the Spurs.
C.J.: I don’t think he wins it this year. So that would be a 0%. I like the Warriors with Durant and all those shooters plus revenge as their motive.
Mallory: 60% if they play the Warriors. 35% if he plays the Spurs.
What active player has a chance to equal the LBJ 6 Finals in a row record, if any?
Brendan: Is that a joke? There is no player. Maybe he is in diapers. But no current player can lead his team to 6 straight NBA Finals. Maybe if they get the roster right around Anthony Davis he might have a chance for 3 times. But…
C.J.: This is what is so crazy about that question. LeBron has done it 6 times. Of active players Steph Curry is at 2. It’s a ridiculous stat. Unbreakable.
Mallory: No one. Think about this. Chris Paul is the greatest point of his generation, a two way player and he hasn’t appeared in a conference final. And Blake Griffin is on his team. Durant has only been there once. LeBron is everything.
Julian: LeBron has had a lot of ups and downs in his career but generally things have gone his way. He has never been injured. That in itself is an anomaly, particularly with how fast the game is being played. I would say his consecutive Finals record will be as hallowed and immortal as Wilt’s 100. But it is LeBron so it is totally underplayed, like he is supposed to do that being as great as he is. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
photo via llananba