LeBron James is a very smart man, in case anyone needed a reminder. He understands, perhaps better than anyone, that it takes a team to win it all on an NBA level rather than lone individual talent.
One of the first things he did after choosing to return to Cleveland was call up Kevin Love and basically tell him, “I’m here. I’m gunning for a title. It’d be nice to have some help.”
LeBron understands how a winning culture works. Every player, no matter how small their role, needs to be included.
The team needs to feel like a family and everyone has to know they’re wanted. Only then can a squad achieve that elusive chemistry that every single great team captures at one point or another.
James also knows that it won’t happen right away. Or at least he thinks it won’t.
But that hasn’t deterred him from trying to get there as quickly as possible. Cleveland is following the Heat’s blueprint from 2010; whether it’s a good idea or not. The first stage has already been completed.
The Cavs now have a new Big 3 (although I think we should still be careful about using that term with these guys until we see it for real) in James, Love and Kyrie Irving.
Now comes the next part. Figuring things out on the hardwood.
The pieces are there, much like in James’ first year in Miami, to make a deep run into the playoffs. But how far they get depends on how the team evolves during the course of the season.
Thinking back, the Heat’s first season with the Big 3 was a roller coaster. They had two alpha dogs at the time in LeBron and Wade, and Bosh was learning to adapt to his third-option-on-everything role after being king of the hill in Toronto.
They had a rocky start to the season, going 5-4 over their first nine matchups, and lost a lot of close games as the year went on because they had too many options and seemed so overwhelmed by what they could do, that they failed to actually produce the desired result.
Eventually, that club worked things out as time rolled on. They finished with the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference and took out the first overall seed in Chicago to advance to The Finals, where they lost to a veteran Dallas Mavericks team led by an all-time great who was on a spectacular postseason push.
I don’t think I need to remind you of his name.
That Finals was a rough loss for the Heat, who had persevered through all of the hate and painful parts of the season just to get ousted on their home floor in six games. Fans mocked them. Media members were shocked.
The players themselves looked numb; especially LeBron, who infamously vanished in fourth quarters a few times in the series.
But all in all that was what gave the Heat the necessary chip on their shoulder to elevate them to two straight titles and a third Finals appearance afterwards. That first year together they worked things out, poked and prodded, and found a way to mesh the cogs so that the machine would work to perfection.
During those next three seasons, they had discovered that to win a championship Wade would have to change into the second option, LeBron would have to become more of (and a better) leader, and Bosh would have to commit to being the third option while rebounding and learning better defense.
And they all managed to do it. Now, LeBron’s trying to do that again.
Only instead of Wade, he’s got Kyrie. And instead of Bosh, he’s got Love.
Comparing Irving to Wade would be ridiculous. Wade is/was a far better player than Kyrie.
Also, the latter is only 22 years old right now and when LeBron joined Wade in 2010, Wade was 29 years old. It will take a few years at least for Irving to reach his full potential.
But Love and Bosh? That’s a more interesting argument.
It helps that both play the same position (yes, I know Bosh played center for the past few seasons, but he’s a power forward) and that both will be/were asked to do similar things for LeBron’s teams.
Many people who are still down on Love don’t think he’ll be able to fill a Bosh-like role on the Cavaliers, and in fact lots of fans (and even some media members) think that Bosh is/was a better player than Love.
First of all, let’s compare their sixth seasons in the league (since that is how many Love has played):
Bosh: 22.7ppg, 10.0rpg, 2.5apg, 1.0bpg, 48.7 FG%, 24.5 3FG%, 81.7 FT%, 38 minutes per game
Love: 26.1ppg, 12.5rpg, 4.4apg, 45.7 FG%, 37.6 3FG%, 82.1 FT%, 36.3 minutes per game
From those numbers, you’d be taking Love any day. The difference, of course, comes in the form of defense.
Bosh is a better defender than Love, even though he’s not the best defending big man out there.
The league average big man, according to Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus, holds opponents to 50.5 percent shooting at the rim. Last season, Bosh held opponents to 52.4 percent; slightly worse than average. Love; however, only managed to hold (and I use the word “hold” loosely) opponents to 57.4 percent shooting.
Neither are the worst rim protectors in the league by any means, but Bosh is simply about average and Love isn’t good. Let’s also not forget that this isn’t the Bosh of 2008-09, this is the Bosh from last season.
He has since become a much better defender on the Heat than he was with the Raptors, which was partially a product of LeBron himself as well as Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
But that defensive category is about the only one Bosh takes. As shown above, Love’s per game averages in 2013-14 were better than Bosh’s from 2008-09.
And even though Bosh is known as a solid scorer from close to mid-range in particular (which he is), he wasn’t significantly better than Love in that category either. This debate mainly gets brought up due to the idea that Love gets most of his points off of put-backs after rebounds.
Let’s dispel the idea that Love can’t score in other ways right now with the help of Basketball-Reference’s shooting charts (again, using their sixth seasons) and looking at field goal percentage by distance:
Bosh: 49.7% overall 2P, 59.4% at 0-3ft, 43.3% at 3-10ft, 39.9% at 10-16ft, 48.3% at 16+ft
Love: 50.2% overall 2P, 66.9% at 0-3ft, 41.2% at 3-10ft, 35.4% at 10-16ft, 40.0% at 16+ft
Not a tremendous difference. Yes, Bosh was a better shooter from 16+ feet, but Love can score in the midrange.
And part of the reason Love doesn’t take those 16+ footers as often is due to the fact that he already has a great 3-point shot, something Bosh didn’t have in his 2008-09 season and has only developed into a real weapon over the last few years.
Conclusion? Bosh is/was not a better player than Love.
But Love is not a far superior player to Bosh, either. At this point in his career, he has the edge in his offensive arsenal and rebounding.
The point being to all of this that both players are almost eerily similar in what they do/did produce.
LeBron will have his new Bosh, just like he wants. Only this time it comes in the form of a younger body that rebounds better and has higher potential.
With some work, Love might even be able to improve his defense just like Bosh did and use it to help the Cavaliers truly contend for a title against whatever terror comes out of the Western Conference.
So now we’re back to the point of simply having to “figure things out.” LeBron will indeed be getting a new version of what he left for in 2010, only now he gets it in his hometown.
But will things be as easy as they were on the Heat? Will these Cavs find a way to The Finals in their first season? Will they figure out all of the team roles? Will they locate that necessary chemistry?
Who knows. All we can be certain of is that LeBron’s plan is on track and the blueprints have been followed as closely as possible.
And as for the rest of Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans, they’re hoping with all their might that version 2.0 is even better than the original.