When LeBron James decided to move to Miami this offseason, popular opinion said his chances to become one of the greatest NBA players of all-time decreased considerably. The way many of the media and fans reacted made it seem like LeBron’s game had somehow subsided right as he sat in that director’s chair on ESPN announcing “The Decision” — as if he suddenly wasn’t the best player in the League anymore, suddenly wasn’t the best player on his own team, and had no chance of winning another MVP award despite coming off two straight MVP honors.
You’re kidding, right?
I can admit, LeBron’s chances of bringing home a third straight MVP are slimmer than if he’d stayed in Cleveland because he now has at least one superstar in Dwyane Wade who will take some votes away from him. But then again, LeBron wouldn’t have won a third MVP in Cleveland anyway (at least not this season) because voters don’t want to be seen as lazy by giving a guy three in a row; they would have inevitably given it to somebody else just to mix it up. (The same reason why Michael Jordan doesn’t have more MVP’s in his trophy case.)
However, we have to remember who it is we’re talking about here. On the court, LeBron is the most dominant player we’ve seen in years, and he’s only getting better. With the Heat’s undersized rebounders and lack of a true distributor, LeBron has the best chance out of any player in decades to average a triple-double. His 29-ppg, 7-rpg, 8-apg numbers in Cleveland fell just short last season, and now he has significantly improved running mates and doesn’t have to concentrate so much on scoring now, allowing him to rack up those extra dimes and boards (and steals and blocks).
Also, LeBron has said himself that he has been taking mental notes of all the negativity being directed his way, and is determined to shut the haters up once and for all. If he were ever determined to perform in MVP condition, it’s this season. The new fuel added to LeBron’s fire, along with his new help, could possibly result in the best individual season the NBA has seen in years. And anybody who has seen LeBron dominate as usual in Miami’s handful of preseason games so far cannot argue against that.
This summer, Kevin Durant, the MVP favorite, has become the NBA’s golden child, while LeBron has fallen from grace. But when the two went head-to-head in an exhibition game last week, LeBron (22 pts, 7-14 FG, 7 rebs, 8 asts) clearly outplayed Durant (21 pts, 5-13 FG, 4 rebs, 1 ast) and the Heat, without Wade in the lineup, thoroughly outplayed Oklahoma City when both team’s starters were on the court. Taking the “It’s just preseason” stance might work in some cases, but not in this one, because everybody knows KD takes every game seriously and it too competitive to dial it down a notch when he’s lined up across from another superstar. Message sent: Miami is better than OKC, and LeBron is still better than Durant.
Another anti-LeBron argument has been that, by going to join Wade and Bosh in Miami, LeBron was admitting that he can’t win a championship “by himself.” That if he needs the help of Wade and Bosh, he can’t be considered one of the greats anymore. Oddly enough, this argument is made by people who grew up watching Larry Bird play alongside 2-3 Hall of Famers every year, Magic Johnson play alongside 2-3 Hall of Famers every year, and Jordan win rings with at least one other Hall of Famer on his team. NOBODY wins rings “by himself” in the NBA; the League is too good and the teams are too deep. The Cavs had proven they weren’t going to get LeBron the help he needed (Antawn Jamison? Mo Williams?), so he took matters into his own hands and helped put a championship-caliber roster together “by himself.”
And truthfully, Wade needs LeBron more than LeBron needs Wade. Over the last four seasons — after Wade lifted Miami to the ’06 championship — Wade has been unable to move his team past the first round of the playoffs and has routinely dealt with injuries and fatigue in the regular season. Meanwhile, LeBron has carried the Cavs to an NBA Finals and a couple of Eastern Conference Finals appearances and consistently dominated the regular season, as evidenced by the two MVP’s. LeBron has never been on a team that lost in the first round, whereas Wade hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since 2006. So who was the one desperately seeking help here? Now ‘Bron and Bosh have come to Wade’s rescue, and an enormous weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
Let’s just say the two superstars had stayed put on their respective teams. Wade would have had a much lesser chance of winning it all in Miami than LeBron had in Cleveland. Wade will now without a doubt have his easiest season in terms of his team depending on him, and as a result will look fresher than ever come playoff time, which is just what Miami needs.
(And to address the people who say LeBron took the “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach: When were the Heat and Raptors ever a threat to LeBron’s Eastern Conference dominance? It’s not like LeBron signed with Orlando or Boston. Wade and Bosh weren’t two guys LeBron ever had a problem beating head-to-head. If anything, LeBron was the guy Wade and Bosh knew they couldn’t take down, so they joined his side. It could have happened in Miami or in Cleveland or in New York; so given a choice of the three cities, why would anybody pick Cleveland over Miami?)
It seems as if in the midst of all the hype and hoopla, everyone has forgotten or simply disregarded how good LeBron really is. Just because he decided to switch teams doesn’t mean his level of play has suddenly diminished. These first few preseason games have served as a bit of a reminder and a sign that LeBron is as serious as ever. As a result of reaction to “The Decision,” LeBron’s back is against the wall. Frankly, anything less than a championship is a disappointment, and he knows that, so he is going to play like it.
Wade and Bosh, on the other hand, really have nothing to lose. No fuel has really been added to their fire since they have caught the least of the criticism. If the Heat want to give themselves the best shot at winning a championship, they will look to LeBron to lead the way. And from watching the way the team is playing now, LeBron is obviously the man who the offense will run through.
If you think LeBron will be playing second fiddle to Wade, you’re sadly mistaken. Soon enough, it will be widely recognized that Miami is LeBron’s team. Wade will most likely garner most of the respect since he is and has always been the hometown hero and governor of “Wade County”. He and Udonis Haslem are the only two players that remain from the ’06 championship team, and not to mention Wade is older than LeBron and Bosh. So while Wade will probably be the vocal leader among the Big Three, LeBron is without a doubt the best player on the Heat. And he’s still the best player in the League. If he can lead a decent Cleveland roster to 66 and 62 wins in consecutive seasons, you can only imagine what’s in store for Miami if they put him in the driver’s seat.
For now, Wade will just have to ride shotgun. And I’m sure he’s just fine with that. He might not have a choice anyway.