Adjusting to Lebron James

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The Cavs have agreed to a deal in principle with Minnesota to sign Kevin Love, in return for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first round draft pick. Lebron has his man, and now Cleveland have a roster assembled that many are touting as instant NBA Championship favourites. While these prediction may sound a little prematurely ambitious, this is undoubtedly a team that can, at the very least, take control of the Eastern Conference, especially with Indiana wounded and shaken by the loss of Paul George. The team, around James, seems to have a very good blend to it; youth and talent in the back court with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, consistency and experience in Anderson Varejao, and key All Star pedigree in Love. Add in a sprinkling of familiar role players in Mike Miller and James Jones (with Ray Allen still possibly heading to Cleveland as well) and suddenly those Championship ambitions seem a little more realistic. Lebron made a full return to Cleveland today and spoke to to an adoring crowd, and then to the media. “It’s a great piece” James said when asked about Love, praising his basketball IQ and stating his excitement at the prospect of lining up with the double-double maestro. It suddenly stood out; when has Lebron James ever played with a true power forward of Love’s quality?

In James’ formative years in Cleveland there were no other stars to speak of with him in any position, let alone the key offensive PF spot. Shaq had a year there, with J.J Hickson and Varejao rotating at power forward, with James sometimes playing there as well. But an ageing Shaq (he averaged only 12 points and 6 rebounds with the Cavs) was about as close as Cleveland got to securing another star to keep Lebron company, as we all know. Lebron left because he couldn’t do it on his own. When the Big Three was assembled in Miami, the PF spot in the roster was often glaringly uncertain, with Chris Bosh mostly playing centre. Udonis Haslem spent the most time at the 4 during James’s time in Miami, with Lebron himself as the main alternative. And, though Haslem was an essential role player, he has nothing on the type of statlines that Love has consistently put up at PF. Really, it’s an unfamiliar position for Lebron to be in with a player of Love’s calibre at that position, and to a lesser extent, with All Star Irving at the point. James ought to have little trouble adjusting to having his co-stars at these new positions, such is his irrepressible quality and versatility. How well Love and Irving adjust to having James in their team is another story. After spending their careers up to now being their franchise’s main offensive players, Love in particular, it will no doubt be a little uncomfortable for them to immediately defer to Lebron.

You imagine that Irving’s points per game will go down from last year’s 20. And with James handling the ball so often, making plays and passing out of drives, the 6 assists Irving averaged might also take a hit. Love averaged 4 assists a game last season, as well as being a scoring behemoth, so his impact on the offence is also sure to be considerable. It’s really quite hard to anticipate just how much these three stars’ games might have to evolve to form a coherent system. Love’s outside shooting will be an asset Lebron will look to exploit, just as he did last season with Chris Bosh’s suddenly improved outside game. Speaking of Bosh, after being the main man in Toronto, just look how his stats dropped when the year he moved to Miami; points per game went down from 24 to 18, his rebounds went from nearly 11 a game, to 8. After steadily improving each year up till 10/11, last season’s numbers were at the level matching his second year in the league. A point of interest next season will be to track how Bosh does in Miami without Lebron, and how dramatically his numbers improve.

Of course, it’s entirely worth doing; Lebron is capable of being so unstoppable, it makes it an obvious decision to defer to him. Still, as many have pointed out, it took time to get the Big Three in Miami to click properly. When they did click, it was a revelation and, but for Dwayne Wade’s decline, Lebron might still be there. So the talk of instant titles for Lebron and Cleveland v.2 is certainly fun to partake in and Love’s addition, along with the weakened East, definitely bolsters its legitimacy. But the extent to which Love and Irving must adjust, and the time they take to do it is the key aspect to the argument, the answer to which will only be provided well into next season.

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