With LeBron James, Four Straight NBA Finals. Without LeBron James, Nothing
The fallout from LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland is massive. After advancing to the NBA Finals four years in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers are at the bottom of the league. It is no secret that the Cleveland Cavaliers have been in turmoil without James. After his departure, their 2018-2019 season has been nothing short of a disappointment. The 2018-2019 Cavaliers lowlights include:
A question remains: Just how different are the Cleveland Cavaliers with and without LeBron?
Strictly Looking at Wins and Losses
After compiling win/loss records from the last 20 seasons, there is a stark difference between the Cavaliers with and without LeBron James. The following two tables illustrate this chasm. In the first table, the Cleveland Cavaliers season are split into different eras to depict LeBron’s impact historically. Then, the second table looks strictly at the overall record of the Cavaliers during James’ NBA career, in seasons with and without him.
|First LeBron (2003-2009)
|Post LeBron (2010-2013)
|Post LeBron II (2018)
|w/o LeBron (2003-2018)
|w/ LeBron (2003-2018 )
Following a look at those records, LeBron’s effect on the Cavalier’s is even larger than expected. In seasons with James on the roster, their win-percentage more than doubled. What other star’s departure can be seen in such a resounding way? Then, looking past regular season records illuminates LeBron’s Hand of Midas in playoff pushes. In 11 seasons with the Cavaliers, he led them to 9 playoff appearances, 5 NBA Finals and 1 NBA title over the prolific Golden State Warriors. With LeBron, the Cavaliers were a team of legend. Without him, they have been nothing but bottom-feeders.
Did the Los Angeles Lakers see the same LeBron bump?
Well, no. Here’s why:
Lack of an Efficient Supporting Cast
However, there are a few reasons to explain this. First off, the players surrounding LeBron James in Los Angeles did not have an efficient season. According to numberFire’s nERD Score, which measures a player’s efficiency and contribution to team wins, only LeBron James and JaVale McGee ranked in the top-100. The next closest was Johnathan Williams, who ranked 144th. The team around him needs further development and building.
LeBron is, in Fact, Human
Granted, LeBron has taken seemingly-untalented teams to the playoffs before. But this year was different. LeBron was plagued with injuries. Perhaps it was all of his extra playoff minutes that caused him to break down. In terms of playoffs, LeBron played the most minutes of any player in the NBA since 2010. Recently, in his four Cavalier seasons from 2014-2018, James played a total of 81 playoff games. He basically played an additional season. To top it all off, he averaged 41.1 minutes per game in those appearances. All of those extra minutes had to contribute to this poor outing.
Because of the nagging groin injury, James played just 55 games. Late in the season, the Lakers and LeBron reached an agreement to limit his minutes, with no more back to back games. Then, when playoff chances were infinitesimal, the team decided to sit James out the final six games of the season. This first year with LeBron was not pretty.
Hope for Lakers Fans To Cling To
Nonetheless, there still is hope of the Los Angeles Lakers return to glory. Obviously, the Lakers still have LeBron James, one of the greatest players of all time. That definitely helps. Even in his injury-riddled season, he still averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. Additionally, the Lakers record with James in the lineup was actually 28-27. Therefore, James still has yet to experience a losing record since his rookie season.
Furthermore, the disappointing season of the Lakers has a few benefits. The first comes with a lottery chance. Their overall record gives them a 2-percent chance to win the first pick and a 9.4-percent chance to win a top-four pick. The lowest spot the Lakers can pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft is spot 14. They have a chance to reload the roster with some young, fresh talent. The 27 games sans-LeBron also gave the other players on the Lakers a chance to develop more. Without LeBron being the focal point of the offense, the rest of the cast could gain vital experience. Magic Johnson also stepped down as team president. His tenure with the Lakers has been a failed dream for a Lakers legend. But, stepping down was the right thing to do and allows a genuine executive to step forth. Last, LeBron’s 2018-2019 campaign gave him rest. In the playoffs, his off-season is essentially extended. 2019-2020 LeBron James can start the season revived.
Rebuilding LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers
At the end of their seasons, both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers are in need of a better team. Fortunately for the Lakers, they have LeBron James for at least three more seasons. Their losing record also granted them a higher chance to hit in the 2019 NBA Draft. Lakers fans can have high hopes for playoffs next season.
On the other hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers are far behind. According to an article early in the NBA season by Scott Davis of Business Insider, the Cavaliers have severe, systemic issues.
“Issues within the organization were only thinly veiled in recent years, even with James on the roster. The Cavs went all-in to build around him, and the aftermath was always going to be ugly. But at least in recent years, the winning masked some issues.”
Building a team around LeBron with big contracts and again veterans was highly criticized. “GM LeBron” was a nickname offered up by many and both the Cavaliers and James were given negative reviews on cap spending. It worked well and didn’t matter as much when LeBron was on the team. Advancing a team to the NBA Finals four years in a row offset the penalties. But, those problems became maximized the second James left. As Davis put it, “Salary-cap relief could finally come in 2020, but that would essentially be the start of the rebuild”.
Last, we all need to reflect on the rarity of this LeBron James/Cavaliers relationship. It is absolutely incredible that one player can impact an entire franchise so significantly. The sudden quick uplifts and sudden drop-offs the Cavaliers experienced were very easy to see. How much credit/blame goes to LeBron or the Cavaliers organization is up for debate. Regardless, this story has been remarkable to witness. From NBA fanatic to a fan of mild interest, LeBron James made the Cleveland Cavaliers interesting. Let’s just hope that we can see an equally compelling storyline in the next two decades.