It is no secret that the Cavaliers struggle when LeBron is absent from the lineup. Since his return from Miami, the team is 4-19 when LeBron doesn’t suit up, and that includes 0-4 record this year. People would expect the Cavs to not be as good without LeBron in the lineup, but with all of the other talent they have, they should be able to at least beat a decent team once in a while when he sits. There are plenty of other teams around the league that win a lot more games with a lot less talent then the LeBron-less Cavs.
I will admit that their latest loss to the Bulls was a little more understandable because of the fact that they were missing 60% of their normal starting lineup (LeBron, Kevin Love, and JR Smith), but they also lost to the Detroit Pistons by 16 points earlier this year when LeBron sat. There have been other games that have basically been forfeits when a number of starters haven’t played, but the fact remains: the Cavs are really bad when LeBron doesn’t play.
One of the reasons that the team is so bad without LeBron is that so much of the offense runs through him. Even with other guys like Kyrie that can facilitate, LeBron has the ball in his hands much of the time. He also does a great job of getting other people involved and creating good shots for them. He is averaging a career high of almost 9 assists per game this year.
Defenses also have to pay more attention to him when he is on the floor. They constantly have to know where he is and be ready to help off of the guy they are guarding if LeBron beats his man. Having a guy like that out of the lineup allows the other team’s defense to relax a little bit and pay more attention to the guy each of them is guarding.
There is also the fact that LeBron has developed into a great leader over the years and has learned what it takes to win. He expects a lot out of his teammates when he is out on the floor, and they all know that they need to step up or he will call them out if they are slacking. He may not have always been the type of leader or commanded the respect that he does now, but all of his teammates realize they need to follow his lead if they want to win a ring. The young guys look up to him and want to impress him, and the older guys know he is their best shot to win a championship. Who else has been to the last six NBA Finals? (Other than Champ of course)
This is why there are still some people out there who believe that LeBron is still worthy of being in the MVP conversation. A lot of people write him off because of the ridiculous numbers being put up by Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but I doubt either of them will be playing for a championship this year. When people look at the word “value,” they need to see everything that LeBron brings to the team. He could put up the numbers that Harden and Westbrook do on a nightly basis if he wasn’t worried about getting others involved or about what was best for his team over the length of the whole season. Instead, he has games like last Thursday against the Knicks. He only took 11 shots, but he had a stat line of 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. Those guys don’t affect the game the same way LeBron does.
Over time, I believe the Cavs would eventually find a way to be a decent team without LeBron. They would adjust to his absence, and guys would adjust to different roles to try to help compensate for the loss of his production. They would be decent and probably even make the playoffs, but even with all the other talent on the roster, there is no way they would be able to compete for a championship. That’s why every member of the Cavs hopes they never have to play an extended period of time without him.