Feb. 11, 2016
LeBron's Christmas shortcoming symbolic of a changing of the guard
LeBron looked nervous before the ultra-anticipated Finals rematch against the Warriors on Christmas Day. You could tell he wanted this one badly. I engage in a bit of reckless speculation here, but I'm willing to say 'Bron is seriously worried about this Warriors team going forward. And for good reason.
When James went back to Cleveland and made it clear that the primary goal of his career is to win that one, elusive championship for Cleveland, or 'the Land' as he calls it, for many basketball fans his success seemed almost inevitable. He just seemed so dominant, towering over the rest of the league, and consistently delivering as he went to the Finals every year of his Miami stint and continued that streak with the Cavs. After winning his first ring, he finally seemed to be comfortable all the time. No more talk of the 'lack of the clutch gene', no more mental hurdles at the free throw line, no more having to explain his decision making down the stretch of games. He was the man. And everybody knew it.
Steph Curry is the man now. And it won't be long before everyone, including LeBron, knows it. Prior to the Christmas matchup, in which both superstars struggled offensively, but Curry ultimately came out on top, Steph had an absurd 32.61 PER. If he finishes the season this way, it'll be by far the best statistical season of all time, eclipsing Wilt's mark in a season he averaged 30+ points and 20+ rebounds.
Curry's greatness allows the Warriors to play a different game than anyone ever has before. If you have to double team a guy coming off a pick-n-roll 40 feet from the basket, the rest of the team plays 4 on 3. And, by the way, the rest of that team, is really good and really deep. Their depth, again, is in large part thanks to Curry. His persistent ankle problems at the time of his contract year made his market value go down significantly and he signed a 4 year 44 million dollar contract, which in today's NBA, is a Scottie Pippen type of a steal. Thus, the core of this team is set for while with the top 7 rotation guys signed through 2017, including Klay Thompson and Draymond Green locked in till 2019 and 2020 respectively.
And thus, LeBron's worries deepen. This team ain't going nowhere. And the scary part is, the 3 main weapons on this team, named in the previous paragraph, have not hit their prime yet and continue to improve significantly from season to season, highlighted by Steph who managed to become a lot better following his MVP campaign. His 7 PPG increase this year is in large part thanks to the fact he is taking more threes this year without sacrificing his impressive percentage. And he claims he's not done improving.
On Christmas, LeBron James reminded me of a time before his first ring. A time he looked very human against the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals, when putting J.J. Barea on him, worked. Back then Skip Bayless was able to get away with calling him out for lack of composure in the clutch as he continually missed free throws and turned the ball over down the stretch.
Christmas day was reminiscent of that time. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala looked very comfortable defending him. Ion Clark stripped him cleanly on isolation plays twice, and Iggy blocked his usually unstoppable driving layup twice during the same jump and made it seem like just another play. The game was still winnable when James stepped up to the free throw line and missed 3 out of 4. All culminating in a 6 points loss in a game when the Warriors where clearly sub-par. That doesn't bode well, even with Kyrie still finding his feet post achilles injury.
LeBron James is 31 years old and in decline. Considering how many minutes he's logged since coming in as a phenom 18 year old. He lost weight last season to help the longevity of his career but we may have seen the last of those consistent, ultra-efficient 30 point, 60%FG games. He will continue to be a terrific player for years to come. But it would be inexplicable to expect him to produce like he did in Miami.
LeBron understands the game of basketball as well as anybody. And he looked helpless against the Warriors. It may just be that he is realising that some curses were not meant to be broken. And that these Warriors just might make sure that 'the Land' stays without a professional championship for a little while longer.