Jordan had Pippen, Kobe had Shaq,1 and hell even Skywalker had Solo.
No matter how amazing or perfect someone may be, everyone needs help.
LeBron was chastised for heading down to South Beach to team up with an NBA Finals MVP and a reptilion all-star. He was branded scared, afraid, and a coward for running from the challenge he and his Cavalier teammates faced in the Celtics’ Big Three and heading to the land built by cocaine and murder to form his own trio.
“He didn’t want the pressure of being the guy”, we all said.
“He’ll never be Jordan. This clearly takes him out of the conversation. He can win as much as he wants to. There would have been something honorable about staying in Cleveland and trying to win it as the man.” Chimed in Charles Barkley on 790 The Ticket in Miami after “The Decision”.
At the time I couldn’t have agreed more. With a nasty taste in my mouth I searched high and low for quotes like this to wash it out. We all wondered who would be the alpha dog on this Heat team? Who would take the last shot? Who would ride shotgun when the crew of “best friends” headed to Chipotle after practice? It’s Wade’s team, LeBron doesn’t want to be the guy we concluded.Two years later and it seems like a joke we questioned this in the first place. Whether you never liked him to begin with, you’re still spurned by “The Decision”, or you’ve made inner peace with him, there is no denying the LeBron is “the guy” in Miami and the greatest basketball player on the planet.
The end of Barkley’s quote is dead on, it would have been honorable for LeBron to stay in Cleveland. However, three years later the rest of what the Chuckster had to say seems foolish. LeBron is unquestionably “the man” in Miami these days thanks to both his own merits as well as the lack of contribution from Bosh and Wade.
As for Michael doing it as the man, well of course he was the man, but it wasn’t MJ vs. the world night in and night out. Do we forget that he had Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman on some of those teams? What about the greatest perimeter defender in NBA history on his team in Hall of Famer Scotty Pippen? Yet we’re supposed to believe MJ didn’t have help. The year after Jordan began serving his gambling suspension…I mean retired to play baseball…the same Bulls team won 55 games led by Pippen.
Everyone needs help from time to time, there’s no shame in that. The problem for LeBron has been that he has rarely received that help. All throughout the playoffs we’ve heard the announcers say the Heat are starting to look like the LeBron Cavaliers where everyone stands around and watches LeBron try and play 5 on 1. As great as it is hearing Cleveland mentioned during playoff basketball, the constant reminder of how the team was nothing but LeBron all those years is getting old.
Last year when Miami and LeBron did win a title, they received contributions from not just LeBron, but got big play from Wade and Bosh. All three had Player Efficiency Ratings of over 19. For comparison’s sake 15 is considered average and 30 is extraordinary. For the 2012 title run LeBron was over 30 which tops Jordan’s career player PER of 28.59. LeBron was a machine, but it wasn’t all him.
Fast forward to 2013 Eastern Conference Finals where all anyone (including LeBron) could talk about was how LeBron wasn’t getting any help this time around. But just how bad was his supporting cast?
Looking at the playoff PER’s of the 2012 Heat vs. the 2013 Heat the drop off in LeBron’s supporting cast is obvious to see.
|Playoff Player Efficiency Rating|
While LeBron’s play has tapered off a little from the 2012 playoffs to this year, Wade and Bosh each have had significant drops. In fact if you look at the PER’s of the Heat trio compared to the Cavs’ “Big 3” in the ’07 playoffs you see that LeBron was better in ’13 but Wade and Bosh were outshined by Gibson and Ilgauskas in ’07.
|Playoff Player Efficiency Rating|
|LeBron James||28.7||23.9||LeBron James|
|Dwyane Wade||17.4||18||Zydrunas Ilgauskas|
|Chris Bosh||15.9||16.8||Daniel Gibson|
For those who feel they may have jumped the gun on purchasing their Boobie Gibson inspired t’s back ’07, take solace in the fact that the Cavs’ “shooting guard” in 2007 had a better playoffs than D-Whistle is having in 2013. Bosh and Z provide similar skill sets offensively with their ability to stretch the floor, creating space for LeBron to operate. And while the ’07 playoffs weren’t exactly Z’s best stretch of basketball games, he was able to give 2007 LeBron more help than Bosh has during their current run to the finals.
The biggest difference in Cleveland’s “big 3” in 2007 vs. Miami’s in 2013 is the performance of the one constant of the two groups, Mr. James himself. Back in 2007 expectations were still tame for LeBron and the Cavs so when he scored 25 straight against the rival Pistons it was the greatest thing any of us had ever seen.2 While not as extreme, LeBron put on a similar performance of Game 5 on this year’s Eastern Conference Finals. A third quarter that began with a profanity laced speech to his teammates ended with everyone’s jaws hanging on the floor. Once again LeBron had put his team on his back in a pivotal game 5 to secure the win, but even LeBron can’t sustain that level of play forever. Eventually everyone needs help.
In game one of The Finals we saw the Spurs make it clear LeBron James was not going to beat them. They deployed a sort of box and one zone for most of the game, forcing the rest of the Heat to step up and make the big play. With the game on the line, San Antonio baited Bosh into taking a three that would clang off back iron, and moments later when Dwyane Wade had a chance to keep the game going in the final seconds, Wade blew the layup.
The Spurs deployed the same strategy in 2007, do everything you can to make sure LeBron doesn’t beat you and take your chances with his teammates. We saw how it worked out for LBJ the first go round, and if Wade, Bosh, or someone else doesn’t step up then the King is looking at a familiar fate in 2013.
- Or Gasol [↩]
- I’ll never forget being at the Q that night. I frequented Cavs’ playoff games all throughout the LeBron era and the loudest crowd I ever experienced was that watch party crowd for game 5 vs. Detroit. The whole arena participated in our very own Animal House moment to “Shout” after regulation is a memory I’ll never forget. [↩]