“Not one, not two, not three…”
Anyone living in a civilized society has undoubtedly already heard the news—LeBron James has left the Miami Heat for his “hometown” Cleveland Cavaliers. The Akron native is much older and much wiser as evidenced by the brilliant letter in which he announced he was re-signing with the Cavs.
It was a stirring read for the casual and die-hard fan alike, but what really stood out was the surprising sense of caution the once overly exuberant James exuded in prior years—especially with the Heat. In a now infamous pre-season fan promo presentation, James along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade incited an eruption of cheers from Miami Heat fans as James portended that the trio would win multiple championships.
Fast forward four years later and James stymied any sense of overconfidence when assessing the Cavaliers’ chances as a title contender. In fact, you might say he’s almost too realistic to the point of purposely keeping expectations low to avoid coming off as bombastic and hollow as he might’ve when he first arrived in Miami.
The passage in question is this one:
“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010.”
Is LeBron underselling his team’s talent on purpose, or is his assertion right on the money?
Put it this way—the bookmakers think he’s wrong, and anyone who objectively examines the Eastern Conference should think he’s wrong as well.
LeBron James is unquestionably the best individual player in his conference. He’s primarily a facilitator, but he’s been expected on past squads to shoulder the scoring load as well.
He arrives on a Cavaliers team with two pure scorers—Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving—the latter of whom is primed for a huge season now that he finally has an elite set-up man to make his a job a little easier.
Also, it helps to have an elite off-ball talent like Andrew Wiggins, fresh from a one-and-done Kansas Jayhawks campaign, flanking you on the wing, ready to catch lobs and lock down opposing scorers.
Anderson Varejao, one of LeBron’s favorite all-time teammates, solidifies a frontcourt that won’t be lacking in toughness or rebounding. He’s joined by much maligned number one pick Anthony Bennett. A.B. shed 20 pounds this summer, and he’s performed quite well in the NBA Summer League, perhaps previewing a much-needed bounceback season.
Helming this contingent of brilliantly talented players is newly hired head coach David Blatt. Blatt, a relative nobody in the NBA, is formerly of Maccabi Tel Aviv fame, and he’s admired in NBA circles the same way hipsters hype up a band you’ve never heard of.
There’s a lot of smart money backing the Blatt hire, but if he’s as brilliant as many say he is, then he’ll know how to maximize the individual talents and have them firing on all cylinders.
Frankly, as fun as it is to be contrarian, LeBron is right. This is a team that’s never played together; this is a team that’s never been to the playoffs, and even if they can escape the Eastern Conference, they have to get past whatever monster emerges from the Western Conference.
One thing LeBron can guarantee, assuming he wanted to of course, is that this team will make the playoffs.
In an Eastern Conference where a sub-500 squad like the Atlanta Hawks took a number one seed Indiana Pacers team to seven games in the first round, it’s safe to say that the Cavs will clinch a berth with the talent they’ve assembled.
There’s a reason they’re favored at almost 5-to-1 by most major sportsbooks, but at the same time, there’s a reason LeBron won’t boast like he once did as a freshly signed free agent in Miami.
LeBron has learned how to be a professional, and hopefully in Cleveland, he’ll finally learn how to get this young group of guys to bring a title to a city that deserves it more than any other in the league.