What’s Wrong With LeBron James And The Cleveland Cavaliers?

Mar 18, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) looks on against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Orlando Magic 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) looks on against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Orlando Magic 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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LeBron James
Mar 23, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts in the third quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

1. LeBron’s Leadership

It seems borderline criminal to blame the sense of mediocrity exuding from the Cavs on a guy who’s averaging 25.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, but there’s no question that LeBron James’ leadership has played a major factor in the underwhelming performances of a team that looks like it’s inside its own head.

For starters, LeBron needs to back away from all social media for awhile. His thinly veiled messages were problematic last year, but they’ve become an outright distraction now. Everyone knows King James has this franchise by the balls as a free agent this summer, but his comments have put extra pressure on the team to win it all and cast a shadow of doubt over his long-term future in Cleveland.

LeBron undoubtedly knows that his legacy would be forever tarnished if he broke Cleveland’s heart by leaving AGAIN, but all this recent talk about forming a super-team with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade is sending all the wrong signals, even if King James wanted to bring his superstar buddies to court in Cleveland.

In that dream scenario that’ll probably never happen, the Cavs would have to jettison both Irving and Love to make it work. But it’s not just about one hypothetical in which his current superstar teammates would be gone-zo, it’s his other comments that could be completely avoided that have drawn our attention.

James has always been conscientious of the messages he sends out to the world through the media and through his own social media, but lately it just seems like he doesn’t give a damn.

Think back to his early years with the Cavs, when his pregame posing for pictures with his teammates was one of those feel-good phenomenas in the league. And then with the Miami Heat, how he was a complete goofball with his teammates doing their own Harlem Shake video:

Contrast that with the guy who’s calling out his power forward for not fitting in, on a team unhappy with their point guard for not distributing, after playing under a head coach where subtext ruled the day, and it’s no wonder Irving, Love and the rest of the supporting cast have been so underwhelming, even playing alongside one of the best players in the world.

These days, all the talk has revolved around the kind of petty actions and comments that LeBron used to deftly avoid. He unfollowed the Cavaliers’ official Twitter and Instagram accounts, and when asked about it, refused to answer any other questions following his non-response of “No comment.”

(And for the record, yes, the reporter was right to ask that question given the way that information had gone viral. LeBron deserved the chance to defend himself for doing so, and didn’t take it.)

Maybe you could dismiss it as trolling the media, which always seems to be looking for a story to blow out of proportion. LeBron later gave a more concrete answer, justifying the unnecessary unfollows as “entering playoff mode.” But is now really the time to be causing a stir?

With the Cavs visibly frustrated out on the court and failing to live up to expectations in Year 2 of James’ return, is added friction and outside noise really the best way to inspire your teammates? Is making a joke about it all with more trolling in a reference to creating a Snapchat account really necessary?

It’s the little things that give him away. In Miami, he spent most of the halftime break laughing around with his old buddy Dwyane Wade rather than warm up with his team. Lue and then general manager David Griffin spoke with LeBron about his recent actions, with LeBron vowing he “needed to do more.”

What’s ironic is that one of the league’s great all-time leaders and teammates has suddenly gone the Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant path of being super competitive and coming down hard on teammates when they make mistakes. That leadership style worked for them, but it just doesn’t suit LeBron…and it certainly hasn’t rubbed off well on his star teammates.

For example, seeing such terrible body language from King James in Cleveland’s recent loss to the Nets when his teammates gave up baskets was troubling, even if he was doing all he could to keep the Cavs in the game by starting off 13-of-14 from the floor. You could just feel the negativity watching the huddle on your TV set.

Even his comments about Northern Iowa’s collapse in the NCAA Tournament (“I would quit basketball”) sent a negative message and gave the world a glimpse at where LeBron’s head is at these days. Returning to Cleveland was supposed to be a happy homecoming; now it feels like the chore of moving back in with mom and dad after being laid off.

There’s an undeniably huge amount of pressure on LeBron to “win one for the Land,” and the rise of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs probably plays a major part in this feeling that the Cavs are such an underwhelming club. It must be hard to strive for greatness while having to watch two otherworldly teams exceed the world’s wildest expectations on a nightly basis.

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But the Cavs are one injury away from having a chance at winning it all, even with the Raptors hot on their heels in the standings and a number of Eastern teams looking like a formidable challenge. LeBron James has one hell of a switch to flip come playoff time, so it’s time to stop acting like a petulant child and become more like the leader — both on and off the court — that he was not so long ago.