While LeBron Looks Adrift, Stephen A. Smith Stupidly Says LeBron Will Split

The Cavs looked dreadful again on Tuesday night, similar to their lackluster performance against the Knicks to start the season. LeBron James, especially, seemed disinterested in competing when the Blazers made their run in the second half to put the game away. But James tells Brian Windhorst of ESPN what might look like apathy on his part is actually his new leadership style, one where he sits back and hopes his teammates learn their team-first lesson the hard way. That long-term view isn’t shared by some loud mouths in the media, though.

“Everyone wants to win, I would hope,” James tells Windhorst. “Would you rather play selfish basketball and lose, or play unselfish basketball and sacrifice and win? So you pick it.”

That seems to be the premise behind James’ hands-off approach to leading the Cavs so far this season. Still, it’s peculiar. As long-time LeBron watcher Windhorst points out, it’s not something he’s ever done before:

This is a conscious decision on how he plans to operate in a passive-aggressive mission to yank some teammates toward his way of thinking. Let some of them fail at their way so they will be open to new ideas, is what it looks and sounds like…

This style of leadership is not part of James’ typical nature and it wouldn’t be like him to keep it up very long. More likely, frustrated by the way the game unfolded as the Cavs’ offense collapsed into one-on-one ball, this was his way of counting to 10 to calm down.

LeBron sounds like a long-time veteran of losing, unperturbed by the day-to-day exigencies this Cavs team is experiencing under a huge media glare — largely as a result of his signing this summer and the trade to bring Kevin Love over from Minnesota. Nobody predicted a 1-2 start to the year, including an embarrassing home loss to the Knicks and getting blown out in Portland. But, LeBron says he sees a light at the end of a long tunnel, which is why he’s letting his teammates go it alone for a time:

“It’s going to be a long process, man. There’s been a lot of losing basketball around here for a few years. … But there’s a lot of bad habits, a lot of bad habits have been built up over the last couple of years, and when you play that style of basketball it takes a lot to get it up out of you. But I’m here to help, and that’s what it’s about.”
“My mission is not a one-game thing,” James explained. “We have to do multiple things in order to win. We got to share the ball. We got to play defense. We got to sacrifice in order to ultimately win. And obviously when you’re going through the process, it’s not the best part of the process, but I’m looking at the end of the tunnel.”
“It’s going to be a process. I keep on harping on that word, but it’s the truth,” James said. “I’ve been there before and understand it. But you do have to go through it even though you don’t like to go through it.”

Our culture of day-to-day sports analysis forgets the NBA has a pretty long regular season. A season so many twists and turns, prognosticators can go from being right to being wrong to being right again in as little as a week.

Right now, LeBron is immune to the enmity losing can inspire, believing it’s part of the process of growing together as a team. Hard times bring people together, and a 1-2 start is considered a hard time these days.