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LeBron James and the reality of the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers

58-24, 46-20, 66-16, 54-28.

Those numbers mean anything to you? How about these ones:

.707, .697, .805, .659.

Any guesses?

The first set of numbers indicates the Miami Heat’s records in each of the four seasons that LeBron James played there. The next four represent the team’s winning percentage in each of those four seasons.

Here’s two more numbers to contemplate.

45-18 and .714.

Those numbers represent the Cleveland Cavaliers’ record and winning percentage this season through Wednesday's 120-111 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Surprisingly, the Cavaliers’ winning percentage is better than all but one of the four teams James played on in Miami. For better context, consider this. The only Miami team to have a better winning percentage than this current Cavaliers team was the 2012-13 team that was pursuing its second straight NBA Championship and third straight NBA Finals appearance.

That should come as no surprise. By year three, the Heat’s on-court chemistry had never been more fluid, and the team was a juggernaut. It was easily the best of those Miami Heat teams and arguably one of the greatest NBA teams of all time.

Nonetheless, it’s impressive to think that the 2015-16 Cavaliers are on pace to outperform three out of four of James’ Miami teams. It’s even more impressive when you realize that the majority of this Cleveland squad is barely in its second year of playing together.

But consider the narratives surrounding this Cavs team as of late.

Disconnected. Dysfunctional. Communication issues. A lack of chemistry. Cryptic tweets.

Every one of those terms has served as a subplot or adjective to describe this season at one point. The latest storyline has ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and other pundits reminding fans that James’ people say he could leave town once “again if he feels like he’s being taken for granted.”

Does planting a 2,600-pound banner on the top of the Sherwin-Williams Company Global Headquarters resemble a team or city that’s taking James for granted?

What about a team that trades Andrew Wiggins, one of the most sought-after rookies in recent NBA history, for Kevin Love?

Certainly, the fact that the Cavaliers spent $175.6 million on payroll this season, $65 million alone in luxury taxes, has to be proof that this team has taken James for granted, no?

If you have not caught my gist, let me be more precise.

This narrative is bullshit.

For better or worse, no singular athlete has been more synonymous with a region than James is with Northeast Ohio. He’s bigger than the Cavaliers, and he knows Hell, he’s even bigger than Cleveland.

James likes when the media focuses its attention toward him, and there’s no doubt that he’s the puppet master pulling all the strings here. Every tweet he sends out is calculated. Every piece of information leaked to folks like Stephen A. Smith and Brian Windhorst is intentional. After all, it was just this week that he himself took a moment to describe his “beautiful mind.”

However, the mind can play tricks on a person, and that might be in play here with James.

For James, the Cavaliers, the team’s fans and basically the entire NBA, this season has resembled something out of the twilight zone. The perception of what constitutes an elite team has been out of whack from the moment the Golden State Warriors took the court in October. They have not just defended their title; they’ve dominated and decimated every opponent at a historic pace.

This is not meant to imply that there should be no reason to be concerned about the Cavaliers. The team can be lazy, often takes quarters off and only plays defense when it wants to.

Even worse, to some extent, it appears as if Kyrie Irving and James have suddenly lost the chemistry that they displayed on so many nights last season. Plus, where exactly does Love fit? Even more worrisome, when exactly will we stop asking that question?

But the Cavaliers are still on pace to win nearly 60 games. The team still has LeBron James. And the team will still more than likely be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. In any other season, without the Warriors sporting a 56-6 record, ask yourself what that would mean.

Finally, for some final evidence that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Take a look at chart below, which includes the Eastern Conference’s winning percentage for all four of James’ seasons in Miami as well as his current season in Cleveland.

Season
East Record
Winning Percentage
2010-11
579-651
0.471
2011-12
474-516
0.479
2012-13
577-651
0.470
2013-14
556-674
0.452
2015-16
464-484
0.489

As you can see, the Eastern Conference is better this season than in any of James’ four seasons in Miami and by a decent margin, too.

In other words, James’ team is playing better opponents each night than the ones he was facing in Miami, but the Cavaliers still have a better winning percentage than all but one of those Heat teams.

So, yes, LeBron James could choose to leave Cleveland once again this summer. It seems unlikely, but I learned long ago to never say never when it comes to professional sports, especially if it involves Cleveland.

However, this time around, he might just find that the grass isn’t greener on the other side.
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About Steve Orbanek

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