The aftermath of this Dallas Mavericks’ championship over LeBron James and the Miami Heat has left me feeling like I just woke up in some type of NBA-bizarro world. As a once scorned Cleveland fan, I didn’t want him to rub our noses in an NBA title the way he rubbed our nose in his decision, so I did feel relief initially. However, as the fall-out continues, I’ve found myself feeling that it’s much too sad a spectacle to even remotely enjoy. Everything they’d ever said LeBron James embodied he’s now rejected on the largest of NBA stages, and it’s even gotten people to suggest that he be traded away from the team he helped assemble. Never in my most spiteful dreams of basketball vengeance did I ever fathom such a possibility.
This has all forced me to step back and rewind the last ten years of LeBron James’ basketball playing life in my head, and attempt to answer one question that I simply cannot. How did all this happen? Less than five years ago LeBron James was said to be not only amongst the NBA’s elite, but the greatest team-first superstar in the game. He was the anti-Kobe, the self-less mega-star, a student of the game who made all the right basketball decisions. He was a basketball playing prodigy, and he was said to elevate the games of everyone around him. He was Kevin Durant before Kevin Durant. He was the reason a team with a starting back-court of Sasha Pavlovic and Larry Hughes went to an NBA Finals, and now he’s being talked about as the reason a team with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade lost one.
When I first heard the idea suggested that LeBron James should be traded to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard I couldn’t believe how preposterous those words sounded when strung together in a collective thought. Then I couldn’t believe how much sense it made. It’s hard to argue that a team with the game’s most dominant center with Dwight Howard isn’t almost perfectly complimented in the post offensively by an All Star caliber, jump-shooting, power forward with a game like Chris Bosh has.
Add the fact Howard recently gave Orlando an ultimatum – shape up or things will have to change – and adding him to Miami’s roster is not totally out of the question:
“I want to win a championship,” the All-Star center said. “I think the owners have to really know that. That’s been my goal and my mission since I’ve been in the NBA — to win a championship. I don’t have side goals or agendas. My main goal is to win a championship. I want to have 14 other guys who feel the same way.”
“I just told them, ‘We’ve got to have guys who are going to play hard 48 minutes and who are going to battle the other team, who are going to fight night in and night out for a championship,’ ” he said.
And if they don’t, Dwight?
“Then things have to change,” Howard told NBA.com.
Those two bigs, with Wade as the primary ball handler and number one scoring option, does fit much better than the current ball-dominating stars that Miami now employs. Not to mention, with Howard, a gaping hole that Joel Anthony attempted to plug both defending and cleaning the glass is now filled by player who does both better than anybody else on the planet.
But I still can’t get over the fact that a team is improved, the way it seems the Heat would be with Howard, by requiring the guy I once knew as LeBron James not to play on it. I almost hope LeBron eliminates any fleeting notion of that possibility by committing himself this summer to becoming the player he once looked destined to be. I’m almost rooting for him now to get up from the wreckage of his triumphant collapse and attempt to put this thing back together. It’s getting embarrassing to see him like this, and I never thought I’d ever feel this way last July.
In order for talk of trading him to stop making as much sense as it currently does though, LeBron James needs to start believing in himself again. His confidence is beyond shook, and I continue to feel that he believes he’s not good enough to be a champion. Like he’s not worthy or something. As a result, people are thinking maybe he’s right, and suggesting that he needs to go in order to make the Big-3 bigger. Which isn’t really a good look for anybody, let alone a guy inked up on his back like James is. In the process of improving mentally, however, he also needs to develop his ability to play with his back to the basket and learn to move without the ball effectively. He and Wade can’t keep taking turns, that doesn’t work for LeBron, he needs to be active. If he doesn’t work on those three things this summer though, and demonstrate them this time next June, who knows what Riley might do. Maybe he makes another move that nobody ever saw coming. You putting anything past Riles at this point?
I’m not suggesting there’s at all a chance LeBron could be traded this off-season, but next year? Who knows? What if LeBron doesn’t commit to improving, doesn’t show up again in the Finals, and Orlando dangles a sign-and-trade for Howard out to Riley and he pounces on it? If that were to happen, whether the Heat improve or not, it would certainly be a devastating twist in the tale of King James. Two years after the holding the NBA hostage, if LeBron James were to be then shipped out of town, he’s not getting up from that. If he thinks people are laughing now, it would be an hysterical uproar the day it was announced that he got traded. It’s almost hysterical now to even hear it suggested. If it all wasn’t becoming so sad to witness, I might even laugh too.
Photo Credit: Miami Herald