LeBron James is a magnet for controversy, isn’t he? No matter the all-world play of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the dominance of the Golden State Warriors, and the all-around hilarity that is Joel Embiid, LeBron James is still the NBA’s ultimate puppet master. No more was that on full display than when the reigning NBA Finals MVP went nuclear on the Cleveland Cavaliers management following an embarrassing loss to the Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans some days ago.
By now, we’ve all heard what LeBron said after the Cavs’ stink job in the Bayou. For those who need a refresher, here’s a gist of the quote, as per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, in it’s infamy.
"It's like when you don't have bodies. It's tough. The fucking grind of the regular season. We're a top-heavy team. We have a top-heavy team. We top-heavy as sh*t. It's me, [Kyrie Irving], [Kevin Love]. It's top-heavy."
LeBron added that the Cavs need a “fucking playmaker" before bringing up a scenario that would give Cavs fans nightmares. "For the most part, all championship-contending teams has got guys that are ready to step in. Knock on wood, what if Ky goes down? For two weeks. Let's say two. What if I went down for three weeks?"
Naturally, the NBA world was tilted on its axis the moment those words left James’ mouth. That’s generally what happens when the game’s best player calls out the front office. Mind you, it’s the same front office that’s on the hook for an NBA record $127,519,872 in total salary, dead money, and cap holds included.
By that number alone, it’s unfair to say that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert isn’t throwing away his cash, hand over feet. That total doesn’t even include the the staggering $54 million in luxury tax that Gilbert’s on the hook for. Add them all up and Gilbert is essentially paying over $180 million for the players on this team. That’s not NBA salary; that’s Major League Baseball salary.
It’s easy to see where James is coming from when you have a vested interest in the success of the Cavaliers, but he should know better than to put his front office on full blast when that same front office has acquiesced to pretty much all of his demands. The Cavs resigned Tristan Thompson because he wanted him there. Same thing with JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. LeBron wanted more shooting on the perimeter so the Cavs went and got Kyle Korver for him. Now he wants, in his own words, a “fucking playmaker"—it doesn’t work that way, especially if you’re payroll is that high to begin with.
You know who does that on a regular basis? Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Check these names out: Dewayne Dedmon, Dejounte Murray, and Davis Bertans. You’ve probably heard of those names because Popovich plays them meaningful minutes when he purposely sits out Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Dedmon and Murray, in particular, have proven their worth with the minutes they’ve received.
To be fair, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has given Liggins some extended burn, but it’s only come at the expense of JR Smith’s injury. McRae is in his second year with the Cavs and he’s still riding the pine for that team. Then there’s Felder, who many are high on for being the kind of playmaker that James is apparently desperate to have. Why even get one then when you already have one on your team?
Lost in all of this controversy is one startling fact about how Lue has controlled the minutes of his team. Guess who’s leading the NBA in minutes played? Pat yourselves on the back if you said “LeBron James” because it’s true. It’s absolutely criminal that Lue is playing a man who’s already logged more than 49,000 minutes in his career 37.5 minutes per game in his 14th season.
Kawhi Leonard played 46 minutes against James and the Cavs last week and you know what Popovich did after? He sat Leonard in the Spurs’ next two games. James played 45 minutes in that Spurs game and you know what Lue did after? He played James 44 minutes and 45 minutes in the Cavs’ next two games, one of which was that Pelicans game that caused LeBron to pull his hair, or whatever’s left of it.
Oh, and Leonard’s six years younger and has played in 14,000 total minutes. The numbers don’t lie.
LeBron’s frustration is understandable if he feels that the Cavaliers are regressing this season. But he shouldn’t direct his ire on the front office. If anything, it’s Tyronn Lue that needs to make sure his franchise player is as fresh as fresh can be come the playoffs. Playing him close to 38 minutes a game is not exactly the blueprint to do that.
Cut LeBron’s minutes. Kyrie’s too. Play the young guys more. Worry less about the regular season and focus more on getting healthy for the playoffs.
No need for more headline-grabbing tantrums, King James. Your issues can be addressed internally and you already have a template to follow that’s proven to be effective.
If the symptoms persist, do what the Spurs do.