By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
As the NBA playoffs commence its most frequent participator faces his most difficult journey to date. Each season the obstacles appear to be more insurmountable than the previous years’ for LeBron James. The 2016/2017 season has remained true to that form, however it feels as if this season’s series of events could stifle James’ seventh consecutive NBA Finals appearance and destroy his dreams of a fourth NBA ring.
Or is it possible we will witness an unforeseen conquest of the most recent dream team assemblage? In order for that conquest to come to fruition a series of Eastern Conference mid-season acquisitions and a vicious rash of injuries must also be vanquished by the Cavalier of Cleveland.
Nevertheless the table has been set. Last year’s championship was impressive, leading the Cavs back from a 3-to-1 hole will never be taken away from James. But that was last year, and a new moment is upon us.
After stating Cleveland was “top heavy” and informing management of the team’s need for a playmaker, the All-Star forward placed down his shield and picked up his sword. Playing a league leading 37.8 minutes per, James’ highest in five seasons, all appearances are the King is ready to carry the load. And after a 32 point, 13 assist game one performance there is no reason to believe the 13 time All-Star will fall off.
But endings are not immediate, and while the King’s fighting spirit is admirable, the implementation of that spirit could have catastrophic results. James has managed to avoid the injury bug, yet fatigue is bound to rear its ugly head. This is when the front office’s reluctance, or inability, to make a gauntlet dropping move could be costly.
Cleveland played a significant part of the season without forward Kevin Love (missed 20 games) and guard J.R. Smith (missed 41 games), which directly affected the team finding itself holding the second seed in the playoffs. This could possibly have created a difficult, but not insuperable, road to what feels like LeBron’s 78th trip to the NBA Finals.
After declaring help was needed the three time Finals MVP realized early what us fans realized late, that the likes of Lou Williams and Carmelo Anthony were not going to grace the Q hardwood in a title defense. It was also unlikely that anyone of consequence was going to walk through those arena doors.
While the Eastern Conference failed at gaining ground on the defending champions, the more egregious offense was the defending champion’s failure to slam the door to hope shut. Such actions may have created a season’s load that may prove too heavy to bear. There is little doubt Cleveland will make it to the NBA Finals, but will an exhausted and overexerted James be the price. At this point in the three-time champion’s career it should be about conserving his dominance on a nightly basis instead of forcing him to confirm it. By adding a player, like say a DeMarcus Cousins, one of the game’s more impressive championship runs may have continued. However, now it feels more and more as if once the Cavalier star reaches the Finals, he won’t have anything left to win in the Finals.
The four time league MVP has chased the ghosts of legends passed since his rookie season, and this year’s challenges have set the table for him to unceremoniously pass the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to name a few. Making seven straight NBA Finals will be the headline, but the conquest would be told in the details. The 2016 – 2017 Cavaliers were ravaged by injuries, yet their wounded and exhausted Gladiator led his troops to victory and in the process seized the throne as the game’s greatest champion.
Sounds like a fairytale, or something straight out of the movies. Better yet, it sounds like the end to one of the greatest NBA careers we have ever witnessed. Win or lose after 14 seasons of hunting this prize feels bigger than them all. This season’s crown would squash any forthcoming stale debates about where James’ lies in the hierarchy of icons, basketball greats and champions. Simply because this title would be his greatest acquisition.
Each year since reaching the championship round way back in the 2006 – 2007 season, it has been the talented forward’s title to lose. The current campaign was the first where expectations for a title were replaced by the hope for one. Now a player whose heart, not talent, have consistently been questioned is playing on nothing else. His team is not the most talented, and considering number one seeds have won 7 of the last 10 NBA titles, the lack of championship predictions seem appropriate for this group. But this is the King and he has relished in the unexpected before.
Somewhere the NBA world has forgotten or chose to misremember just what the Akron native has done up to this point. Yes, the front office should have added another piece but that is just another obstacle to overtake. Yes, the Warriors added more firepower but the Chosen One still has the best arsenal and yes San Antonio is led by a basketball genius.
But Cleveland is still home to the game’s only mastermind.
The Indiana Pacers will not beat the Central Division champions, but they will beat them up. The Washington Wizards, who are poised to make a title run, will not beat the number two seed in the east, but they too will lay some vicious blows. All of which would create a legless champion resting on the ropes only to respond with a flurry of pride and grit. All on their way to the most impressive of championships.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers win the title LeBron James’ reign as King will end and his accession to basketball God will be unquestioned.