30-year-old LeBron James is in his twelfth NBA season. This winter, he sat for multiple weeks of action, resting his increasingly human body; James missed 13 games in 2014-15, the most of his career. He hasn’t been a consistently fearsome defender for years, and has developed a very noticeable on/off switch in general.
None of that matters at this time of year. LeBron is still the best in the game, and he is proving it as loudly as anybody can in his latest run at an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without Kevin Love or a healthy Kyrie Irving, James has simply ratcheted his own game up to a level so high that everyone around him can’t help but take his lead and thrive.
Role players like Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova are all perfecting their bit pieces around LeBron. That’s probably not a coincidence: From Mario Chalmers to Donyell Marshall, there’s a long lineage of secondary characters who have been emboldened to do surprising things next to the King.
For all the guffawing about James’ bickering and passive-aggressive power plays with David Blatt, he and the Cavs’ head coach clearly have a relationship that functions well enough to produce wins. Cleveland hasn’t missed a beat despite tough health breaks to two of their best players, embodying a next-man-up ethos unwincingly. Blatt deserves a lot of credit for that, but James is who the roster truly takes their cues from.
Building something new is exactly what James came back home to do. Few doubted he could do it — especially with Irving and Love set to be next to him — but probably even fewer thought he could bring Cleveland back to prominence so swiftly, and through this much bad injury luck. The throne appears to be on lockdown this spring.
— John Wilmes