As the Cavaliers were presented with the Eastern Conference championship trophy, LeBron James lied on the floor off to the side. Soon enough, Doris Burke – hosting the televised ceremony – beckoned him.
“I got to talk again?” said a clearly exhausted LeBron after leading Cleveland past the Pacers, Raptors and Celtics and into the NBA Finals.
His teammates helped him to his feet, and he returned the favor in his interview.
“I know I get a lot of the headlines – win, lose or draw, whatever the case may be,” LeBron said. “But in order to be successful, it’s a team game. I learned that from when I first started picking up a basketball to play organized basketball at age 9.”
That is true. No individual wins by himself.
But some do more than others, and LeBron is doing more than anyone in a long time.
He has put the Cavs on his back after failed trades, bad signings and aging (exacerbated by deep playoff runs annually) have left his supporting cast inept. His teammates are literally the butt of the joke.
The problems started last summer, when LeBron’s top teammate – Kyrie Irving – requested a trade. The Cavaliers dealt him for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, and when those two didn’t work, flipped them to get George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Though Cleveland also netted the No. 8 pick in that string of transactions (and relinquished its own first-rounder), that selection isn’t helping this postseason.
Neither are Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, two overhyped signings who were also sent away. J.R. Smith looks old. Tristan appears worn down.
Even the bright spots are blemished. Kevin Love is a star, but he has never neared his Minnesota-level contributions with the Cavs, and he’s not getting any younger. Plus, he’s still dealing with a concussion. Kyle Korver is a fine one-way player in a two-way sport. Jeff Green is finally providing surplus value – now that he’s earning a minimum salary. Jose Calderon has soared past expectations for someone who looked washed-up last year. Cedi Osman plays with a lot of energy but is deployed.
The other Cavaliers will have their moments, but so, so, so much falls on LeBron.
And he has risen to the occasion.
LeBron has posted 44% of Cleveland’s win shares this postseason. That’s the fifth-highest percentage ever for someone who led his team to the Finals and highest since the NBA-ABA merger.
The all-time leaderboard in percentage of team’s postseason win shares among players who led their team to the Finals:
And here’s since the merger:
Of course, win shares are far from a perfect measure. And these are all postseason-long marks. Perhaps, LeBron’s changes in the Finals.
But this matches what we’re all seeing unfold: LeBron is dragging an undermanned team deep in the playoffs.
The burden will probably become too great this round. The Warriors are stacked – Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
One man can’t topple this Golden State team alone.
If LeBron’s teammates are as capable as he says, this would be a great time for them to step up.
He got them this far. Now, he needs more help.