There may be no higher compliment to pay LeBron James in this season of transforming all the burlap around him into silk than this:
If he could carry this Cleveland team to the NBA Finals, is there any doubt that he alone could have done the same with any team in the East? And, yes, that includes the Hawks.
Shanghai James – probably against league rules – and install him on the Hawks roster. Then two franchises simply swap positions. The Cavs go to draft lottery. And the Hawks go to their first-ever NBA Finals in Atlanta, to face Golden State and a skeptical betting public.
Yes, James would make slightly more impact than Dwight Howard.
James has done this kind of heavy lifting before. It’s a wonder that at the age of 33 he’s not as stooped as an octogenarian piano mover. In 2007, in his first tour of Cleveland, he went to the Finals with a team whose second-best player was Larry Hughes. In 2015, the beginning of his second tour, he brought to Atlanta and the conference final a Cavs team that was completely unremarkable save for the best player on the planet. J.R. Smith got hot, Matthew Dellavedova loosed the havoc of desperate hustle, but ultimately, as always, it was James who powered the Cavs sweep of the top-seeded Hawks.
The current Cleveland roster, especially when Kevin Love spends time in concussion protocol, is a largely amorphous gathering of long limbs. These Cavs are a sheet cake and James is the entire frosting.
Put him with John Collins, Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore and Malcolm Delaney. Assume that he could curb the wilder instincts of Dennis Schroder. Bring Kyle Korver back for old time’s sake. And try to argue that supporting group is inferior to the one backing up James now. One of James’ greatest gifts is his Sherpa-like ability to take those around him to ridiculous heights. The other is his singular ability to go unstoppably solo when it is time for teammates to just get the heck out of the way. You could successfully transplant those traits just about anywhere.
By averaging close to a triple double throughout these playoffs (34 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists) and by willing Cleveland already through a pair of seven-game series, James kept his standing reservation in the season’s last series. That should be a highlight of the James Collection, no matter what happens from here.
Before the start of the Finals, Golden State’s Steph Curry actually attempted to lessen the James effect. He put himself in the position of advocating for the faceless troupe behind James. That is a difficult position, like trying to pump up the triangle player in a symphony orchestra.
“(James’) was an amazing performance,” Curry said, “but don’t disrespect the other guys out there. They fought hard too.”
If Curry is that far off when the Finals begin, Cleveland might just have a chance.
For it’s all about James. He could have transported anybody to the Finals, even the Hawks.