When LeBron James arrived in Miami, there was only one thing in his mind: to win as many NBA championships as possible. Just like Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant needed Shaq, LeBron also needed the presence of another superstar on his team to win the biggest title in basketball. A team stacked with solid role players and two superstars, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, both still in their primes and hungry for a championship run, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for LeBron to finally win several rings and solidify his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time.
Although LeBron has a career adorned with excellent stats and some of the most jaw-dropping individual performances of all time, it is sometimes easy to forget about his teammates who played major roles in those accomplishments. Therefore, we thought it would be worth looking into how the teams that Lebron have played for throughout his career all had made changes to suit his game style and meet his expectations as a championship caliber team, so we can get a better understanding of the success he’s had in the second half of his career.
Everybody who has watched LeBron and become familiar with his way of playing the game at this point probably knows that he has a pass-first mentality. He is the perfect all-around type of player who is forceful in all facets of the game from rebounding to making pretty passes on the open-court as well as impressive chase-down blocks that become the highlights of many games. Although he’s always been a dominant scorer with his speed and strength as well as his much-improved jump shot, scoring has not been the most aesthetic part of James’ game. Rather, the beauty of his game shows itself in his ability to have a great vision of the court as a great playmaker. This has not only characterized LeBron as an unselfish player but also allowed him to significantly elevate his teammates’ performance and will his team to many NBA Finals appearances in his career.
This is also one of the main reasons why LeBron has always been very good with having sharpshooters on his team. Naturally, you need to have good three-point shooters on your team who you can trust to knock down shots in the most critical moments of the game if you want to win a championship. LeBron certainly knew this, and his passing style opened up the court and played a critical role in his two championships in Miami.
Building a Dynasty: Miami Years
As the League has rapidly been evolving to a more pace and space style of play that sacrifices height, physical strength and low-post offense/defense in favor of a lineup of smaller players for speed, agility, and increased scoring often from the three-point line, LeBron certainly knew that it was crucial to have sharpshooters on his team who could support him down the stretch. A style of game, which was first successfully introduced to the league by the Heat in 2011 and was later perfected by the Warriors, pushed the speed of the offense and spread out the defense with extra shooters on the court seemed like the way to go in this new era where seeing players who could play in three or more positions was becoming more and more commonplace.
Followed by the loss against Mavericks in what was LeBron’s first Finals appearance since 2007, Shane Battier and Mike Miller were added to the roster in the next season. Mike Miller, a 32-year-old veteran who had dealt with several injuries in his career, came out with a huge performance with a 7-8 shooting from the three-point line in the Game 5 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder that clenched LeBron’s first championship in his career. In the following season and yet another Finals run, Battier came off the bench to drop bomb after bomb from beyond the arc, scoring 18 points on 6 for 8 shooting in 29 minutes to help the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in a grisly seven-game series that brought Miami its second championship. However, of course, the most memorable and perhaps the defining shot of the series was Ray Allen’s game-tying three-pointer after LeBron missed his three-pointer in the final seconds of Game 6. That shot by one of the most legendary three-point shooters that this game has ever seen not only gave the Heat a chance to win in overtime but win its second consecutive championship when all hope seemed lost.
None of this would have been possible, of course, without having two other extremely talented players on the same team: Bosh and Wade. After LeBron joined the Heat, both players had to make tremendous sacrifices to adapt their game in order to play with LeBron in this new system of small ball offense. Bosh, who used to be the main scoring option of his former Raptors team, had to adjust to his new role of being a spot-up shooter, a role that was embraced later by Kevin Love after LeBron made his return to Cleveland. For Wade, who used to be the leader and decidedly the franchise player, it was a new completely new thing to get used to his new role where he was going to let LeBron run the show.
Will the Same Math Always Work? Back Home
After the two championships in Miami, it was time for LeBron to return to his home and win a title there. By the time he was back, Kyrie Irving was already established as a young superstar in the league and a franchise player for the Cavaliers. With the addition of Kevin Love in exchange for the top pick Andrew Wiggins, LeBron had himself a new Big 3 and was ready to do what he did in Miami with Wade and Bosh. To replicate the system in Miami that allowed him to stretch the floor, LeBron pulled in dynamic guards such as J.R. Smith, Iman Schumpert, and Mike Miller. The team looked really promising and finished the season with a 53-29 record and as the second team in the Eastern Conference. However, when the playoffs came around, things didn’t go as expected. Love’s shoulder Injury along with Irving’s fractured knee-cap in the 2014 playoffs left LeBron with a very difficult task of going up against a heavily stacked Warriors team, which ended up in a 4-2 loss for the Cavaliers.
In the following season, however, Cavaliers continued with the same mindset of trying to bring together a group of reliable three-point shooters from around the league to build an effective system around LeBron and Kyrie. Richard Jefferson, who was an excellent defender and a good three-point shooter basically did what Shane Battier did for LeBron in his Miami years, joined the team along with other key pieces like Channing Frye and Dahntay Jones.
Owing to legendary performances by Kyrie and LeBron in the finals against the Warriors for a second consecutive time, this team managed to win the title and bring LeBron the third championship of his career.
However, in these Finals, the victory was in large part due to the amazing individual performances by LeBron and Kyrie. With Kevin Love averaging less than 10 points per game and the remaining guards shooting less than 25% from behind the three-point line, it seemed as though the small ball line-up of the Cavaliers offense were no match for the Warriors team who were doing just about everything much better on the court. The Cleveland had the luxury of playing two extremely talented players who could go off and dominate the game, which was something the Warriors could not afford with either Steph or Klay in their system. However, they solved this problem with the addition of Kevin Durant to their team in the following season who could do just that. Even with the additions of Kyle Korver and Deron Williams who were both expected to be perimeter players, the Cavaliers were not lucky enough to win this time, as their small ball line-up proved once again to be clunky and insufficient to provide the support that LeBron needed against the Warriors.
A Fresh Start on the Pacific Coast
Now, playing on a new team and a new conference, LeBron is going to try to make another run for the Finals. Although this time he is playing on a much different team than he has ever played. Instead of an aging and slow Cavaliers roster, LeBron now is playing with a squad that has fresh blood and very high potential. Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, who have already proven themselves as versatile players with long arms and a lot of explosiveness and athleticism in their games, seem like they can do almost anything on the floor. JaVale McGee, who has the experience of playing for a championship team, is a freakish athlete who can run down the floor and catch an alley-oop pass from LeBron anytime. And other important pieces such as Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson, who have been consistent knock-down shooters so far this season, along with Rondo and Tyson Chandler, the two veteran players who have been on championship teams, makes this team have a nice blend of experience and future potential for a championship.
Although the Lakers have not been successful in getting Anthony Davis before the trade deadline, it seems like LeBron and the management are not going to give up on adding a talented big-guy to their team. Right now, the Lakers might have a fast and skilled roster that can compete with the Warriors’ small ball line-up, notoriously called “the death line-up,” the addition of DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors shows that they’re trying to adopt a version of the pace and space game without sacrificing from strength, height, and low-post play. Even though LeBron has Tyson Chandler on his team, it is questionable if he will be enough for competing against the big guys of other teams in the West with serious playoff chances such as Nikola Jokic, LaMarcus Aldridge, KAT, Rudy Gobert etc.
No matter what, it seems like the inherent value of having a talented center who can not only play a dominant post-game but can also knock down some shots, just like DeMarcus Cousins is doing for the Warriors, does not seem to go away any time soon. In addition to having the players who can stretch the floor for him, now the biggest challenge for LeBron James seems to be finding that additional power forward or center who can really fit well in his system of shooters and still preserve the style of a traditional center. As the Warriors are steering the direction of the league and elevating the game to whole new levels, we all should expect the smartest player in the League to respond with his adjustments.