Summer of LeBron (take three)

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The fourth edition of the NBA Finals featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors was short lived and somehow even more one sided and forgettable than originally advertised.

The fact that the Warriors swept LeBron James and Cleveland took a backseat after the conclusion of the series. Instead, the attention naturally shifted to James, who reportedly injured his hand when he punched a blackboard after a frustrating defeat in game one.

It is hard to say whether or not the Cavs would have still been swept had this not happened, but it did not seem to slow down James too much. LeBron still averaged 34 points in the Finals along with 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds. He will never get the glory because of the way it ended, but we just witnessed one of the most dominant playoffs ever by an NBA player over the last month.

The question entering the series was never whether or not the Warriors would win, but what would be the fallout for LeBron’s legacy when he inevitably lost to Golden State for the third time? It is the second time he has been swept in the NBA Finals, the first came in 2007 to the San Antonio Spurs, another series he had no business winning. He has now lost in the Finals six times and won three, twice with the Miami Heat (2012, 2013) and once with the Cavs (2016).

Obviously a sweep is not a favorable outcome for anyone on the losing end, but think about it: they lost in five games to the Warriors in 2017 with the services of Kyrie Irving. Aside from James, this year’s Cavs were the worst set of players to ever compete for a championship in recent memory. James also put his team in great shape for an upset victory in game one with 51 points, but his teammates took that potential glory away from him too. He was never going to win the series, but things certainly would have looked a lot more respectable if they fell in five or six.

Many will continue to mock James for his lack of success in the Finals, but I do not see this as entirely fair or even logical. Setting aside the incredible fact that he will likely compete for more than 10 by the time his career is done, one must consider the opponents, especially the Warriors. If James had pulled off a championship in 2018, it would have been one if the best accomplishments in the history of sports and an upset on par with the New York Giants in Super Bowl 42. James himself compared the Warriors to the New England Patriots.

In terms of dominance, LeBron nailed the comparison. But I cannot help but undervalue what Golden State’s current dynasty has become. At first, they were a model organization that built the best regular season team in NBA history with a homegrown set of players and an elite coach. But this still was not enough to defeat James and the Cavs at full strength in 2016, so they decided to add Kevin Durant and become literally unbeatable in a best-of-seven postseason series.

It is hard to completely fault the Warriors for this acquisition that has plagued the entire sport of basketball over the last two years, as it is simply the nature of the NBA. Durant’s legacy is the one that will ultimately suffer for his lack of competitive spirit and his decision to take the easy way out in life. But I still cannot help but chuckle as we watch the Warriors celebrate their conquest of a wounded James and his teammates who have no business playing in June as if anyone expected anything less a week ago; or Steve Kerr telling us everything his squad had to overcome along the way as if a 73-win team that added the second best player in the world knows the first thing about adversity.

I cannot help but come to the defense of James, but he is far from a victim in these matters. Simply put, LeBron does not play well with others. He never seems to be satisfied with his situation unless he is calling the shots and in complete control. While he is undeniably the best player in the league, it does not mean he should have the final say on the team’s coach and roster. You can also make a strong case that James at least elevated the league’s “super team” culture when he joined Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat along with Chris Bosch in the summer of 2010. But one can also claim that he has paid dearly for this with his matchups against the stacked Warriors throughout his second stint in Cleveland.

As we advance into the offseason, Golden State’s third championship will continue to diminish because it is something we all knew would happen. If the Warriors did not win it all each of the last two years with that roster, it would have been one of the more prominent choke jobs in sports history.

Instead, the third “Summer of LeBron” is officially under way. James will become a free agent once again when he opts out of the final year of his contract later this month and may have played his last game as a Cavalier. If he decides to leave Cleveland for a second time, he will have a number of established teams to choose from. His decision will come around the week of July 4 and dramatically shift the league’s power structure in 2019 and beyond.

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