Born, raised and now returned to northeast Ohio, LeBron James apparently has been out of place even though he’s back where he belongs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ decision nine days ago to fire David Blatt and promote associate head coach Tyronn Lue despite a 30-11 record was done for numerous reasons, including one intended to speed up a Cavaliers team that rules the East but must overcome fast-player Golden State (not to mention San Antonio and Oklahoma City) in the West if they intend to win James his third NBA title and bring one home to Cleveland for the first time.
A 34-point home loss to the Warriors four days before Blatt was fired — as well as a four-point loss at San Antonio four days before that — made that painfully clear, particularly it seems to Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin.
Statistical analytics suggest James is the league’s most efficient — if underutilized — player getting down the floor in transition. It’s a premise Lue addressed the day he took the job, saying all his players needed to shape up if they intended to fully use the talents of James, Kyrie Irving and others.
James has lived and played his entire NBA career in the East, but in a recent conversation with California-born and Arizona-raised teammate Richard Jefferson, James came clean and admitted he just maybe has been a man out of his place his whole life.
“Talking to R.J., I feel like I should have been a West Coast player growing up,” he said, “because they run the floor on the West Coast and on the East Coast we dribble the ball and things of that nature. One thing since I was a kid, I’ve always loved to run the floor.”
A six-time member of NBA all-defensive teams, James since Blatt’s firing has defended against the notion he pushed for the dismissal of a man who likely wouldn’t have been hired in summer 2014 if James had become a free agent two weeks earlier or if the Cavaliers had waited just a little longer to name a coach. Blatt was hired after a career spent in Europe to coach a young team. When James revealed his desire to return home two weeks later, everything changed.
James told reporters last week he has never undermined or disrespected a coach since the day he first picked up a basketball, and he invited them to ask any of his coaches from little league to the NBA if he had ever done so. With that said, James called himself a smart player who has voiced his opinions to every NBA coach for whom he has ever played and will continue to do so with Lue.
James and Lue have been friends for years, but Lue promises he will hold his superstar accountable and James countered by saying Lue’s call to play faster isn’t his doing.
“This is what Coach wants to do, and this is what we’re doing to do,” James said. “This isn’t a LeBron thing.”
A faster pace should allow Irving and James to attack and create easier baskets before the opposing defense gets set. If not, it still allows more time to run an offense that hasn’t yet learned how to better use Kevin Love’s passing abilities or low-post game.
“Getting up the floor at 19 seconds [remaining on the 24-second shot clock] instead of 15 gives us four more seconds,” James said. “Some people think four seconds is nothing. But in our league, four seconds is a ton of time. … I definitely know the difference. I’ve played at a slow pace and I’ve played at a fast pace before in my career. You can see it, you can sense it and you can feel it. For the average fan that doesn’t know, just go look at Golden State game and then go look at a Memphis game.”
NBA Short Takes
Tobacco Road woes
It’s tough being a Duke fan these days. Just ask Timberwolves rookie Tyus Jones.
One season after Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow led their school to another NCAA title, Duke has lost four of its past five conference games, is 4-4 in ACC play and could miss the NCAA tournament.
Jones has heard from Wolves teammates Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky) and Gorgui Dieng (Louisville) about it.
“Any time anyone can say anything bad about Duke, they take advantage of it,” Jones said. “If they lose a game, I’m sure to hear about it as soon as the game is over. … I know [Duke] fans are probably frustrated right now, but Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] has been through it all. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll get everything figured out. They’re only eight games into the conference season.”
More fuel for the fire
Portland’s Damian Lillard was left out of the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season. He’ll play the Wolves Sunday in his second game since learning that.
“I’ll go out there and that wood on the fire will be more for my team,” he said. “What I can do now is get this team into the playoffs, put my energy into that. … The numbers speak for themselves. I feel like I’ve played at an All-Star level. Obviously maybe the coaches didn’t.”
Year and counting …
Golden State celebrated the one-year anniversary of its last regular-season home loss by beating Dallas 127-107 Wednesday at Oracle Arena. That’s 40 consecutive in the regular season since Chicago won 113-111 in overtime on Jan. 27, 2015. Memphis and Cleveland each beat the Warriors once in Oakland during the playoffs.
Wolves’ Week Ahead
Sunday: 8 p.m. at Portland
Tuesday: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Lakers
Wed.: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Clippers
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Chicago
Player to watch: C.J. McCollum, Blazers
The guy the Wolves passed on with the ninth pick in the 2013 draft, he’s having a breakthrough season after he was plugged into the starting lineup as a small shooting guard after the Blazers lost four starters from last season’s team. He’s averaging 20.7 points a game and started the season by scoring a career-high 37 points.
“You can see he’s playing fast, but he’s thinking slow. Does that make sense?”
— Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell after 2014 first-round pick Zach LaVine went 14-for-17 from the field and scored 35 points in Wednesday’s loss to Oklahoma City.