Chapman: "I was convinced the NBA Playoffs mattered for LeBron's decision, but I was wrong"

LeBron's decision has little to do with this postseason

Jake Chapman
May 17, 2018 - 3:51 pm
Apr 11, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (center) sits on the bench in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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The Cavaliers will not win the 2018 NBA Championship

 If you think that’s a hot take, I don’t know what to tell you.

Most rational Cavs fans and nearly all media-types made peace long ago with the notion that this was not a championship contender. And although LeBron James seemingly makes any series winnable, I’m fairly certain this team stands no chance against Houston or Golden State, and I’ve felt that way since last summer, right around late August. With that said, I still thought this postseason run was important because of the backdrop of James’ free agency.

I thought James would be evaluating his teammates throughout the playoffs. The further they go, the better the chances that he sticks around this summer. “If he thinks they’re just a piece away,” I told myself, “Maybe he’ll come back.”

I was being a dope.

While watching the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, I felt like a fool for thinking the Cavs were even “a piece away” from the Warriors or even the Rockets. They aren’t at all close. In a league where superstars reign supreme, the Cavs have one.

Their second “star” is a high volume, low percentage post player who is a defensive liability. Kevin Love can be a borderline all-star player at his best, he’s a very good offensive player and he’s a good rebounder. But he’ll never ascend beyond 3rd-best player on an actual contender. And past Love, it’s a sea of question marks, creaky knees and one-dimensional specialists.

I would argue JR Smith has been the Cavs 2nd or 3rd best player throughout the postseason, but his game 2 crapfest lingers in my mind. Same with George Hill and Kyle Korver, who have both had high highs and low lows in the postseason. The real point is this: if JR Smith’s performance is that important to your team’s overall success, you’re probably in for a rude awakening. He’s an inconsistent player, and the Cavs can’t afford him to be right now.

When the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving for damaged goods, they became James and a bunch of role players again, just like in 2009. And you can’t win at the highest level that way.

If anyone on planet earth knows this to be the case, it’s James of course.

There’s no way he’s going to base his decision to return to Cleveland off of the budding talents of Jordan Clarkson or George Hill’s ability to navigate ball screens. James knows damn well he needs a superteam to compete with Golden State. This isn’t to say there’s no way he comes back to the Cavs, just to say he has to know this roster is nowhere close. Returning to Cleveland would mean another massive roster overhaul this summer, and that would be when Koby Altman would really earn his significantly-lower-than-market-value paycheck.

It's likely James came to the realization months ago that this would be a wasted year of his prime.

He knew he had a free pass: Take this group to the finals, you’re a hero. Lose early, you had no help. It’s a lost year for James, but one that allows him to avoid being villainized again, regardless of his postseason play or his offseason decisions. As long as he doesn’t join the Warriors or make his decision on national television, most people are going to be cool with it. And rightfully so, he’s been a great leader all year.

His top priority this summer will be assembling a roster for himself that can compete with the Western Conference elite.

If he does in fact choose to remain a Cavalier, it will only be with a plan in place to somehow add a superstar. James has done and said all the right things all year long, but to think he sees himself returning to this roster next season is nuts. Next year the second-best guy on his team will be better than Kevin Love.

Let’s just hope that guy is the newest Cavalier.