Though it’s much-improved this season, the Eastern Conference is still a two-horse race in 2014-2015. That’s no secret. According to LeBron James, though, the Cleveland Cavaliers still have a ways to go before reaching the exalted level of the Chicago Bulls.
In advance of tonight’s exhibition matchup between the two conference powers, James insists that simple continuity ensures the Bulls are much further along than his Cavaliers at the moment. Via ESPN’s Brian Windhorst:
“[The Bulls] are a team that’s much better than us right now just off chemistry,” James said. “They’ve been together for awhile, we’ve got a long way to go…”
“You’ve got to go through something to create a bond; that means for the worse,” James said. “We’ve got to lose ballgames that we think we should’ve won, we’ve got to get into an argument every now and then just to test each other out…”
“It has to happen. I know it is going to happen,” James said. “A lot of guys don’t see it, but I see it. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to grow. You don’t define yourself during the good times, you define yourself through the bad times. That’s for the players and the coaching staff as well.”
This is just continuation of the sentiment James has been stressing ever since he announced his return to the Cavaliers. Basketball isn’t won during the offseason or on-paper. Team chemistry is a close second to overall talent in terms of importance, a reality that LeBron fully understands – and is even going to greater lengths than necessary driving home.
It’s a prudent leadership strategy in any situation, but especially considering sky-high expectations that accompany the league latest super-team. Sportsbooks across the web have Cleveland as a clear title favorite, an assessment that belies just how difficult it’s been for newly constructed teams to win a championship. The 2008 Boston Celtics aren’t the rule, but a huge exception to it.
That’s what LeBron is getting at here. Tom Thibodeau, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, and Chicago have learned from labors of the past four years that include being ousted from the postseason by a James-led squad on two occasions. Learning to play and thrive without Rose in the lineup is the type of adversity to which LeBron is alluding, too.
But though the Bulls’ main cogs are the same, they’re integrating new pieces as well this season. Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott, and Nikola Mirotic will all play significant roles for Chicago in 2014-2015, and are due major adjustments as a result. Are they as big as those facing James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and the rest of the Cavs? Certainly not. But the Bulls aren’t quite as concrete as LeBron makes them seem.
He’s still right, of course. Cleveland’s hurdles to ideal on- and off- court comfort are far higher than that of any other team in the league, and taller still because James, Irving, and Love have only shared the floor for one game during their team’s exhibition slate. The second one will come tonight against Chicago (7:00 EST, NBA TV), and David Blatt says that his rotation will mirror what it will be in the regular season.
Is this a real litmus test for the Cavs, then? No way. The Bulls played last night and Thibodeau is unlikely to afford his regulars major minutes as a result. But you can bet James will be taking it very seriously nonetheless.
Do you agree with LeBron?
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