Is LeBron James a burden?
No, of course not. He’s LeBron James. The greatest player in the world. In a good year he wins a championship. In a bad year he still gets to the Finals.
Does that sound like a burden?
LeBron is a lot of things, but burden isn’t one of them.
However, “exhausting” is.
So is overbearing, demanding, relentless, suffocating, controversial, entitled, provocative, draining, blinding, and. . . oh, yeah, electrifying.
LeBron is all those things. Either he himself, or his presence. It’s what you sign up for when you sign him. It’s a package deal. But the risk/reward is tilted so preposterously lopsided towards “reward” that it’s not much of a debate.
Until a season like this.
When, for the first time in LeBron’s career, and in the history of our eyeballs, we look at him and his team, and we don’t really care much for either.
Perhaps. But that’s where this collapsing Cavs season has led us, to a team imploding upon itself. All we can go by is what we see, and what we see is this:
Nobody wants to be here anymore. It’s like they’ve all checked out mentally. Like they’re all tired of one another, don’t care about one another, and want this season to be over, the sooner the better.
You want a name for it?
It appears to have engulfed every corner of the franchise, including the subject himself.
It seems — again, just going off the body language, the absence of effort or any will to compete, all those no-contest, double-digit losses, and a seemingly paralyzed front office — that everyone is LeBroned out. Including LeBron.
Maybe four years is enough. Maybe that’s the shelf life for being able to endure the blazing spotlight, high-powered microscope, and daily stress that comes with playing on the same team as the greatest player on the planet.
After leaving Cleveland, LeBron went to Miami for four years, then returned to Cleveland. This is the fourth year since his return, and the team and the season is disintegrating around him.
In Orlando, the Cavs came within two minutes of having a four-point fourth quarter. But then the offense went nuts in the last two minutes and turned it into a nine-point quarter — in an 18-point loss to a 16-36 team, playing without their two best players, on the second night of a back-to-back.
THAT team toyed with LeBron’s team.
Is there a precedent for what we’re seeing from the Cavs? I can think of none. This is beyond a slump. This looks like an unconditional midseason surrender. A team that has decided it doesn’t want to do this anymore. A team that has quit.
That’s what it looks like.
“They’re not giving their best effort.”
“This is embarrassing.”
Those were the comments of ABC analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson last Saturday, in the first half of the Cavs’ nationally televised national embarrassment, that hideous 120-88 loss, at home, to Houston.
But beyond the losses, it’s the joyless, spiritless play, the emotional flat-lining that is so alarming. It’s like the Cavs are playing games not to win, but just to get them over.
Like this whole Cavs thing has worn them out mentally.
Maybe it has.
Consider that many of the players were brought here to be hood ornaments on LeBron’s drive for a fourth ring. Caddies. Wingmen. Everything about the construction of the Cavs’ roster was predicated on the presence of LeBron. Some of the players wouldn’t be here at all if LeBron wasn’t on the team. Their existence on the roster, moreover, comes with the tacit understanding that their careers are subservient to his.
That’s not fair, or even necessarily accurate. But if you’re one of those players, it’s probably an easy conclusion or opinion to jump to when a season starts to go sideways.
Of course, the bloated salaries of some of those same players are also due to the existence of LeBron on the roster, but nobody thinks about that perk when they’re heading for the lifeboats.
Playing with LeBron is, or should be, basketball Camelot, but it’s not for everyone. Just ask Kyrie Irving.
In many ways LeBron’s team is America’s Team, with all the good and bad that entails. The stakes are always higher on LeBron’s team, because nobody’s sure how long he’s going to hang around, and the championship window slams shut when he leaves. Hence, the spotlight and the pressure never dims.
His supporting cast is only as secure as the next roster emergency. So seeing your name mentioned in trade rumors comes with the turf in Camelot.
The media crush is relentless. Only winning is an option. It’s easy to see how it could become so mentally exhausting.
Maybe that’s where the Cavs are now.
It’s nobody’s fault, but everyone’s to blame.
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