Between the regular season and playoffs combined, LeBron James is closing in on playing 1200 games at a touch over 40 minutes per. Over that stretch, the now 31-year-old former first-overall selection has averaged 27.2 points, 6.9 assists and 7.2 rebounds while leading his teams to two championships, six Finals appearances and 10 playoff appearances, with an 11th coming in a couple weeks.
It is one of the most impressive 12-year runs in NBA history and places James in the pantheon of all-time greats, but has the time come for James to cede his position as the “alpha dog” on the court and become more of a secondary option?
Look, asking whether the sixth-leading scorer in the league should become more of a complimentary piece sounds crazy, but hear me out.
Cleveland doesn’t work right now, despite what its record says.
Kyrie Irving is a ball-dominant guard that is rarely allowed to dominate the ball and Kevin Love has gone from averaging 26 and 12 in his final season in Minnesota to a 16 and 8 guy with the Cavs. As the leader of the team, everything revolves around James, but with his abundant skill as a facilitator, would the Cavaliers work better with him operating as a Draymond Green-type?
This season, Green is averaging 13.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists for the defending champion Golden State Warriors. He’s the glue guy and the engine of the team, even with reigning MVP Steph Curry and his fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson leading the way on the scoring front. He has occasional 20-point nights, but more often than not, he’s the guy filling up every column on the stat sheet while others shoulder the scoring load.
James is more than capable of doing the same. He already is to a certain extent, but would a LeBron that averages 18-10-8 while creating more opportunities for Irving, Love and others to score the ball make the Cavaliers work better overall?
It’s something to consider given the number of games and minutes James has logged through his first 12 seasons and his desire for his team to be title contenders year-in and year-out. A change in role could be the key, though there is another question to ponder in trying to figure out where James’ career goes from here.
Are we sure Irving and Love aren’t just empty numbers guys that don’t know how to edit their games to be successful playing with a player like James?
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh went from being No. 1 options to holding down the second and third position in “The Big 3” when they teamed up with James to reach four straight finals with the Miami Heat. Each transformed their respective games to work within the system and style James prefers and the Heat were better for it. Irving and Love haven’t done that yet and just might not be capable of making that shift, which would be too bad because a trio of James, Irving and Love with the remaining pieces in Cleveland should be even better than they are.
And if that is the case, it means that James read the situation wrong when he made his decision to return to Cleveland and press the team to trade first-overall pick Andrew Wiggins for Love, which might lead to him reconsidering that choice in the future.
This is the core that will make up the Cavs for the next couple years, so unless Irving and Love suddenly adjust their games or James changes his role, continue to expect them to be a frustrating squad that doesn’t play as well as you would expect a team with this kind of roster should on a nightly basis.
Can they make it work as is? Will James become more of a secondary option and facilitator? Or could he break Cleveland’s collective hearts again to pursue more rings elsewhere with different partners?