By David “D-Wil” Wilson
At halftime of the San Antonio-Phoenix game, Magic Johnson gave TNT’s NBA viewers the quote of the year concerning the Cleveland Cavaliers:
“They [Cleveland] don’t know what they want to be. Phoenix runs. San Antonio executes you to death. But Cleveland, you just don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with them?”
The problem is Magic should know the answer to the question – and surely he does. But to do so reveals a secret of the NBA trade. So, what is the answer to why the Cavs play like they do?
The answer is, Cleveland plays just like their leader, LeBron James.
The Cavaliers play like twenty-two year olds with a lot of money who haven’t figured “It” out yet. It, in the NBA, what kind of player do I want to be and how am I going to convey to my teammates who I am as a basketball player?
Magic had Kareem, “Captain” Abdul-Jabbar to lead the Lakers when Johnson was young and figuring It out. Kobe had Shaq when he was young. When Shaq left for Miami, Kobe had to figure It out really fast or the Los Angeles Laker ship was going to sink and stay sunk for a long time. The ship teetered while Kobe went to the place he needed to go – inside him – to find It.
For Kobe, that place was Eagle, Colorado. After the “incident in Eagle,” after being put through the ringer by the sports and general media, after losing endorsements, after nearly losing his marriage and daughter – becoming painfully mortal – he figured It out. And look at the Lakers with the youngest core of players in the league – one through eight – now.
For more examples, just take a glimpse around the NBA. Where’s Boston without Paul Pierce? Where was New Jersey before Jason Kidd went public with his marital problems? Look at the ups and downs of Toronto with Chris Bosh as a leader. Bosh is definitely more grounded than LeBron and though his team is not as talented, at present the Raptors sit only three games behind Cleveland in the East.
Then there’s Washington with Gilbert – “Gilberto Gil” – Arenas.
After last season’s playoff debacle of being punked by a relative kid – LeBron – and missing free throws that cost his team the game and series and after being snubbed for a position on the U.S. National Team, Gil figured It out. Mortality and being pimp-slapped can do that to the most playful of people. The Wizards still have fun and that fun is led by Gilberto. But the Wizards are gaining a killer instinct and hearts of stone in the clutch. That’s directly due to Gil, too. And that’s why, at present they have the best record in the East.
See how much better Orlando is this season with Grant Hill on the floor instead of behind the bench in the first row? What happened to Philadelphia when AI lost interest in the team and lost trust in the Philadelphia organization?
Conversely, the Denver Nuggets should be better off with AI and Melo. But. It’s young Carmelo Anthony’s team and I don’t feel that Iverson will bail him out by taking over the team because he knows it will ruin Anthony’s psyche. Anthony’s response will be to sulk and ultimately cause friction in the locker room. Did Carmelo use that 15-game suspension to further bolster the knowledge he gained from having his public image tarnished and his personal life decisions questioned? Or will he take a victim’s stance? If he takes the former, Denver will right itself and make a run after the All-Star break. If Melo chooses the latter, the Nuggets season is done. Perhaps the ultimate slap of not being chosen to represent his team in the All-Star game will be the catalyst for Anthony to find his heart and demand excellence from his teammates.
All the “bad” teams are rudderless, without identity, without a leader, with a leader who has been soured and sullied by the game or what surrounds it, or with a leader who has yet to find – It. They are scattered across the NBA landscape like so many unfinished precious stones. Milwaukee. Atlanta. Charlotte. Memphis. New Orleans. Portland. Golden State. Sacramento. New Orleans.
Cleveland’s record to date is a testament to Mike Brown’s coaching ability, more accurately, his ability to cull a form of competency from the Cavaliers. It is too a testament to Lebron James’ fantastic ability as a basketball player that Cleveland is in a position to win is division and fight for the best record in the Eastern Conference. But unless LeBron finds – It, the Cavs will never be winners with him as their leader. What baby Bron Bron needs is a humbling experience, like a first round defeat at the hands of a lower seed like Indiana, or Orlando, a team the Cavaliers, with James should defeat.
Maybe a long offseason filled with questions concerning James’ ability to lead, about his character, and about his will to win will be just the drink Bron Bron needs to swallow. Maybe that will be swallow will taste so bitter that it causes James to explode from his chrysalis with that look in his eye, the look that says to opponents, Oh no, now he’s got – It.
For more of D-Wil’s writing check out his blog Sports On My Mind.