Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? The Cleveland Cavaliers, and Lebron James, used to have a policy — no excuses.
“We’re a no excuses team,” echoed both Lebron James and Mike Brown, after a late (and pretty obviously intentional) Bruce Bowen foul went uncalled in the 2007 NBA Finals. Which brings me to the irony. Since then, there has always been an excuse waiting to escort James away from failure. His latest excuse invokes the Boston Celtics, but, first, a history of LeExcuses.
Brown’s offensive sets were never good enough. Neither was Lebron’s supporting cast. Lebron’s elbow hurt so bad. A teammate had sexual relations with Lebron’s mother. Lebron didn’t actually know what contraction meant. The karma tweet didn’t even consist of his own thoughts. And did I tell you about that Cleveland supporting cast? You try winning with those bums.
There aren’t many more excuses to go around. James has a coach who he, all shoulder bumps aside, finally respects. Don’t want to take my word for it? Listen to Bill Reiter, who has covered Miami for Fox Sports all season long. Hell, listen to Lebron himself: “Me and Spo are still learning each other,” LeBron said after playing OKC. “It’s not like me and Spo have been (together a long time). We’re still learning each other. I’m going to continue to trust Spo. He’s our coach and he’s going to continue to trust me.” And Reiter’s take on Lebron’s quote: “The key here isn’t that LeBron said these words – it’s that he appeared to mean them.”
The supporting cast, too, leaves little to be desired. I mean, sure, I bet Lebron wishes he could see a little less of Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony and Carlos Arroyo. But when Lebron James teams with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the supporting cast can’t be blamed. It can’t. The Heat have three of the top ten (or, in Bosh’s case, perhaps 15) players in the NBA, and a few pieces (read: Mike Miller, James Jones, and maybe Zydrunas Ilgauskas) who aren’t at all half bad. And Udonis Haslem should return later this season to add another impressive role player. Nobody would argue Miami’s the NBA’s deepest team, but the talent is there.
As for knick-knack injuries? Nobody’s going to fall for the elbow trick twice. Same goes for the whole “mother” thing. I’m not even trying to say the accusations were false. Nor am I trying to say they were true. I’m just saying nobody’s going to fall for it twice, true or not.
Some of the excuses weren’t even made by Lebron himself. Lebron stood in Brown’s corner, even when the media blamed him for Cleveland’s troubles. Lebron never, to my knowledge, verbally disparaged his supporting cast in Cleveland (although leaving for Miami was a sure sign of where Lebron stood on the issue). We — the media, and the fans — enabled Lebron to avoid accountability, to play six years in Cleveland while hardly ever taking fault for a loss, and we hardly ever mentioned, “Shit, maybe it’s Lebron’s fault this isn’t working.” In the seventh year, after Lebron’s epic disappearance against Boston in Game 5, we’d finally had enough. That loss was Lebron’s fault, no matter how that damn elbow felt, no matter how many times Delonte West had pleased Lebron’s mother.
As scarce as excuses seem to be nowadays, Lebron isn’t done with them. He doesn’t have many left, so he created a new one. The Heat can’t possibly have Boston’s chemistry, said Lebron yesterday, because they haven’t had enough time together. (ESPN)
“We’re way behind those guys,” LeBron James said following the Heat’s practice on Wednesday. “Just look at the number of games played, the number of playoff series those guys have had. We’re only a few months in together — 40-something-plus games. I’ve seen the statistics. Boston has like 250-plus games played together. We’re way behind those teams.”
When taken alone, the quote isn’t that harmful. Actually, it makes all kinds of sense. Miami IS only 40-something games into its new experiment. Boston DOES have great chemistry, which IS aided by the amount of games the C’s have played together.
But being an obsessive follower of Boston’s Big Three, I can tell you they never made excuses about chemistry. They saw the Detroit Pistons and never thought, “Damn, those guys have more chemistry than we do. We’re way behind that team.” They thought, “We’ll do whatever it takes to get our chemistry to that level. Then, we’ll kick their asses.” The Big Three Celtics never once complained about chemistry, or how quickly they had to develop it. Never once. They were all working toward a common goal, they were all infected by Ubuntu, and chemistry developed quickly and naturally. And, though the bond was natural and unforced, the Celtics worked all season long to strengthen it. No excuses, no complaints.
The Celtics made it work. Ray Allen sacrificed so much of his individual game. Paul Pierce stopped being a ball stopper, and started facilitating movement. He took fewer shots, but he took better ones. And Kevin Garnett? He was always unselfish, but he took his charitable attitude to another level. Chemistry isn’t just about liking your teammates on and off the court. It’s about making sacrifices to maximize the talent that steps on the floor each night.
Which brings us back to the Heat. They could very well win an NBA championship this season. They have two of the NBA’s top five players, and another in the top fifteen. They’re a very good, potentially great team. But Lebron’s right: they don’t have terrific on-court chemistry yet, and, maybe more importantly, they don’t seem like they’re willing to make all the necessary sacrifices. Lebron still wants to launch the occasional ill-advised fallaway jumper, and both Wade and Lebron fall into one-on-one play too often. Isolations can work, because the two players are such talents. But solo tangents of individual greatness fail to maximize Miami’s production.
So Lebron, you’re right. Your team lags behind Boston in terms of chemistry. But that doesn’t count as an excuse. It’s on you and your teammates to get it right by season’s end. If not, the failure’s on your team, and nobody or nothing else. Accountability started the day you took your talents to South Beach, Lebron, and it should have started far sooner.