Nearing the end of a brutal month of January, LeBron James made a statement to the team’s management. After his team lost a 124-122 contest to a New Orleans team who was without Anthony Davis, James was clearly upset. James vented to reporters that the Cavaliers lacked depth and playmaking.
James had a point. The Cavaliers were, as he put it, top-heavy. At 32 years of age, James still is second in the NBA in terms of minutes played per game, averaging just fewer than 38 minutes per contest.
While the Cavaliers were clearly not panicking, they were undoubtedly frustrated. At the time, the Cavaliers were losers of five of their previous seven games, new addition Kyle Korver had not yet hit his stride as a Cavalier, and the Cavaliers were dealing with every day grind of NBA basketball in January. To make matters worse, on the other side of the country, the Warriors were peaking. While the Cavaliers struggled through a 7-8 January, the Warriors cruised to a 12-2 record in the opening month of 2017.
A student of the game, James is ultra-aware of what is happening around the league. James was certainly well-aware of the Cavaliers’ struggles. He was also aware that not only were the Warriors winning, but they were cruising in those wins. While James’ best attempts to save the Cavs on a nightly basis were proving futile, his rivals hardly had to play in the 4th quarter of games.
In any sport, the best teams re-invent themselves. James’ perception was that the Warriors had made steps to improve while the Cavs simply were content with treading water.
Many took issue with James’ vent session, saying that the Cavaliers’ massive payroll is evidence that the Cavaliers do, in fact, have the help they need. According to some, James was simply whining. After a relatively drama-free start to the season, the Cavaliers faced adversity. Once again, however, adversity—regardless of if it was manufactured by James himself—fueled the King.
James pushed the Cavaliers front office to look for ways to better the team. With the pressure of the NBA’s best player upon them, a knee-jerk reaction could have been in the cards for many NBA teams, but General Manager David Griffin exercised patience.
As a result of that patience, Derrick Williams fell into the Cavaliers’ lap.
Now on the second of consecutive 10-day contracts, Williams’ energy and versatility has been a welcome addition to the Cavs roster. For the first time in his career, Williams is playing on a good team and that has freed Williams to play to his strength. Williams has likely found a long-term home in Cleveland, similar to how JR Smith found his fit alongside the King. For what seems like the twentieth time in the last few years, Griffin found a castaway who has blossomed in Cleveland. To James’ credit, he has made these successes possible.
The addition of veteran guard Deron Williams is yet another product of Griffin’s patience. As the Cavaliers embark on a month of March that will see them play 12 of 17 games away from Quicken Loans Arena, the addition of Williams’ addition comes at the perfect time for the Cavaliers. Deron will likely make his Cavalier debut Wednesday night when the Cavaliers travel to Boston to take on the Celtics.
Without a doubt, Griffin has done a superb job molding the Cavaliers’ roster to fit James’ skills, while also dealing with the pressure of his larger-than-life, ultra-competitive personality. James, however, deserves plenty of credit for being the glue that ultimately holds it all together.
One thing seems certain: While there was ultimately some uneasy times in James’ first two seasons after his return to Cleveland, the two have developed a trusting, working relationship. James is the competitive, instinctual, at times irrational, face of the franchise. He is on the front lines of the Cavaliers’ title defense. He is hungry for short-term success. Griffin, on the other hand, is the rational, calm presence who operates behind the scenes. Both are pushing the Cavs to pursue a second consecutive title.
In a matter of weeks, the Cavaliers have gone from top-heavy, as James put it, to one of the NBA’s deepest teams, when healthy. It is safe to say that the relationship between James and Griffin is working out pretty well, even if it doesn’t always seem perfect.