by Anthony Lima
Listen to Anthony weekday mornings from 6-10 am on The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima
CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Whether it’s a coaching change during a championship year, or all-star teammates sniping at each other on social media, or an unprecedented comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, one thing is utterly undeniable about the Cavs during the second LeBron era:
They’ve been able to handle chaos. Heck, they’ve been able to thrive in it.
This time, however, could prove to be the type of turmoil that’s not even fit for the King.
LeBron James reportedly admitted he was “blindsided and disappointed” by the news that Kyrie Irving demanded a trade out of Cleveland. You know it must be bombshell when the guy that has twice sent the sports world into a frenzy over his historic free agency decisions admits that he was caught off guard.
Nobody saw this coming, but maybe they should have.
A championship player going through a very public divorce with his teammate is certainly not without precedent in the NBA. This is a page straight out of the book of Kobe and Shaq, where even a dynasty couldn’t fix the warts of their relationship. The difference this time is that nobody seemed to know anything was brewing between LeBron and Kyrie, leaving fans scurrying to assign blame.
Boy is there blame to go around.
Let’s start with the fact that only in Cleveland could there be front office instability following an actual championship. Whether you think David Griffin is the second coming of the Spurs’ RC Buford or not, you have to admit the guy deserved a raise at the very least following a title.
That’s typically how it works in sports. You win and you get rewarded. Dan Gilbert’s puzzling decision to let Griffin’s contract expire left the Cavs without a GM during the draft and most of the critical free agency period.
Certainly most fans will point their fingers at Kyrie, and for good reason. Fans aren’t exactly quick to take the side of the disgruntled millionaire employee who plays alongside the best player in the game.
They are also not hearing his side of the story yet, as his camp has done a poor job of getting out in front of this.
But what could his side possibly be? He’s one of the most marketed stars in the league with one of the largest shoe deals and a crazy-good ad campaign that coincided with his ascension. He also is very much a focal point of the offense.
Take for instance this past NBA Finals where he took more shots than anyone else in the series. 15 more than Kevin Durant, 6 more than LeBron and 32 more than Steph Curry.
Not to mention, Kyrie was the guy tasked with the biggest shot in Game 7 of the freaking NBA Finals. If that’s not a sign of respect, then what is?
But it’s still never been his team, and the way that league operates, that tends to matter with guys like Kyrie. It’s what drove a wedge between Kobe and Shaq. It’s why many thought LeBron and Wade might have issues in Miami.
It’s why some are skeptical that James Harden and Chris Paul will work in Houston. Alpha dogs are alpha dogs because they are alpha dogs.
When Dan Gilbert flew to New Jersey at 11:59 PM to start free agency three years ago it was to hand over the team to Kyrie Irving. A few weeks later, the keys were quickly swiped by LeBron James. The Cavs will never not be LeBron James’ team while he’s still playing in Cleveland – and Kyrie knows it.
Then there’s LeBron, who says he’s staying out of this.
While there’s no doubt LeBron is still the best player in the game and his spot atop the franchise’s pecking order is unquestioned, this melodrama provided a perfect opportunity for the most influential player in sports to demonstrate a level of leadership he’s not typically associated with.
Do parents going through a separation not at least try to seek therapy? Then shouldn’t there at least be one passing attempt by the one individual associated with the Cavs that has the credibility and the clout to try and help fix this pending fissure?
Remember that two years ago LeBron organized a not-so-private meeting with the Kevin Love to ensure that he would sign an extension.
So he’s 1-for-1 remediation yet wants no part of any conflict resolution to retain the guy who hit one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history? The guy who is supposed to take the load off LeBron during his later years? Maybe that should tell us all we need to know about how deep their wounds truly are.
It probably doesn’t help matters that LeBron remains uncommitted to the Cavs, continuing his free agency trend of keeping nobody in the loop. That’s great for drama and ratings, but it’s bad for team building and feelings.
But as we’ve seen for years, LeBron doesn’t care about your feelings. Compare that uncertainty with the Warriors ability to have a long-term plan for their own players and free agency, which has enabled them to keep everyone at the table happy with whatever piece of the pie that gets cut.
That’s how a dynasty stays a dynasty, and LeBron’s inability to help the Cavs operate in that matter always inhibited that type of long-term success.
All three parties here seem to be actively taking the path of most resistance.
Gilbert has made things tougher because of the front office upheaval, Kyrie has made things tougher by refusing to accept his role on a championship team, and LeBron has made things tougher by refusing to commit.
Years down the road we may sadly have to point to these events as the perfect storm for the conclusion we have all been hoping to avoid reaching.
It’s the Cavs in chaos again.
If they can swim out of this and somehow get to the other side as champions, it may prove to be LeBron’s best trick yet.