Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The real LeBrons

The phrase "heart and soul of the team" is thrown around way too much in sports. Kind of like war analogies.

Comb the sports channels and Internet articles in a given day, and everyone from Tom Brady to Derek Jeter to Joe Mauer to Sam Cassell is being touted as the heart and soul of his team.

Ninety percent of the time, it's hogwash. The Patriots could still win without Brady, the Twins wouldn't be left dead in the water without Mauer.

But then there's the case of LeBron James and his wine and gold entourage. In his case, "heart and soul" doesn't even begin to describe it.

LeBron is the personality of the Cavaliers. Whatever form he takes, the team takes.

In other words, LeBron, merely by his attitude, can decide games before he even puts a dribble on the floor.

The first four games of the Cavs season have offered a great sample of the many faces of LeBron. And I'm not talking about fake beards, afro wigs and Nike commercials.

I'm talking about the real "LeBrons." The ones who affect the outcomes of games.

There is "Personal Rivalry LeBron," who showed up against the Wizards in the season opener.

This LeBron is motivated by the presence of an on-court adversary. In this case, Gilbert Arenas. He focuses his entire competitive fire on taking out that one player, and by extension, his team. This LeBron is highly motivated to win.

You will also see this LeBron when the Cavs play Dwyane Wade and the Heat, Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets, and Paul Pierce and the Celtics.

There is "Legacy LeBron," who showed up in Friday's win over the Spurs.

This LeBron is motivated by carving out his place in history, which he knows can only be accomplished by winning titles. Legacy LeBron hungers to beat the best teams in the league, and is willing to lift the Cavs up onto his shoulders to make it happen. Like Personal Rivalry LeBron, this LeBron is also highly motivated to win.

You will also see this LeBron when the Pistons, Mavericks, Heat and Suns come to town.

There is "Tired LeBron," who showed up in Saturday's loss to the Bobcats.

This LeBron is cognizant of the fact that he has logged a lot of miles over the past year, carrying the Cavs through 13 playoff games, then spending his summer at the World Championships. He doesn't want to wear down, so he picks and chooses when he wants to exert himself. This LeBron is less driven than the first two, and the presence of a player like Adam Morrison might not be enough to stoke his competitve fire to white-hot proportions.

This LeBron tends to appear on the second night of back-to-backs, especially when the competition is less than marquee.

Finally, there is "Scrimmage LeBron," who showed up in Tuesday's loss to the Hawks.

This LeBron might put up respectable numbers, but never really seems to turn his game completely on. He makes a few dipsy-doo passes, throws down a couple of dunks, gives the crowd what they want in terms of highlights, but seems to be doing it all at half-speed.

Defense is a rumor to Scrimmage LeBron.

This LeBron is closely related to Tired LeBron, but shows up on nights when fatigue shouldn't be a factor.

Scrimmage LeBron almost always shows up when the opponent is a dreg. Almost invariably, said dreg either takes the Cavs to overtime or beats them outright.

Falling in lockstep behind their leader, the Cavs respond to whatever LeBron they have on a given night. Personal Rivalry LeBron and Legacy LeBron can inspire the Cavs to great things. They almost always win when either one of them shows up.

The problem is when Tired LeBron and Scrimmage LeBron show up. If his teammates get a LeBron who lacks energy or intensity, the letdown will be palpable and the Cavs will likely lose.

It might not appear fair to place the outcome of every Cavs game at the feet of LeBron, but it's the truth. A motivated LeBron will lead his team to wins. An unmotivated LeBron won't. It's that simple. And the other 14 players on Cleveland's roster combined don't have enough talent or spark to offset a lethargic King James.

The bottom line: If the Cavs want to beat teams like the Bobcats and Hawks, LeBron has to make it so, not just with his play, but with his attitude.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, the Cavs go as LeBron goes. He gets up for the big games (which will be fine come playoff time) but he seems to lose focus versus the lesser teams.

I'm interested to see how they play versus Boston.

Erik said...

My guess is they play well against Boston simply because LeBron is going to be motivated against Paul Pierce.

Now, if Boston really wanted to win they game, they'd feign a Pierce back spasm, hold him out and hit the floor with their second-stringers.