Regardless of where he ranks on your 2015 MVP ballot, LeBron James remains the NBA’s best all-around player and the prism through whom most league storylines shine. He has earned the privilege of being the name above the title, a spokesman on par with Kobe Bryant and legendary players before them.
Since James already wears multiple hats – perennial MVP candidate for the Cavaliers, ubiquitous corporate pitchman, powerful VP voice in the NBA players union, alleged Cavs “coach” (and David Blatt ventriloquist) and suspected Cleveland GM for the roster moves he presumably has signed off on since his return in July – it seems reasonable he could add one more: NBA postseason schedule-maker.
Depending on your media outlet of choice, James’ comments about potentially facing the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs might seem self-serving or heavy in the sort of drama of which he’s occasionally been accused. After all, the two franchises never have met in such circumstances, and never have had more criss-crossing storylines till now.
Heading toward the Miami-Cleveland game Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena (8 ET, TNT), James naturally was asked about the prospect of facing in a best-of-seven series the team he led to four straight NBA Finals and two championships in 2012 and 2013. The fact that the Cavs currently are No. 2 in the East while Miami is No. 7, which makes the match-up possible, was rendered a mere contributing factor once James’ preferences and will were tapped.
As noted by longtime Heat reporter Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, James said he welcomed a head-to-head meeting with good pal Dwyane Wade for several reasons.
“You look at the standings, you see who’s two-seven. If we continue to do well, we’ll probably face the seven seed and we’ll see what happens then,” James said at the Cavaliers’ practice facility in advance of Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Heat, with the teams entering with those seedings. “But it’d be good for the fans, for sure. And it will be good for me and D-Wade, just being two guys that love to compete.”
“I mean just to go against a champion, a competitor like himself and that franchise,” James said of what Heat-Cavs in the playoffs would mean. “Obviously I’m not there yet, but I am kind of in playoff mentality.
“But as far as my opponent, I’m not there yet, obviously, because I lock down on what I need to do.”
While James has the liberty to discuss potential playoff matchups, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday he has more immediate concerns.
“It’s easier for those guys to say,” he said of the Cavaliers discussing potential playoff opponents. “We’re not there. I’ll take any of those guys.”
But Spoelstra acknowledged that just about every game these past five seasons at Quicken Loans Arena has been unique, whether it has been alongside James or as an opponent.
“It always will feel a little different,” he said. “It’s great competition.”
Left unsaid was the understanding that James would be in a no-win situation, playing with the higher seed against the team he left in free agency just as abruptly (if less emotionally) as he did Cleveland back in 2010. Whether he or Blatt calls Cleveland’s plays on the floor, whether actual GM David Griffin transactions above NBA D-League-grade by James or not, the all-NBA forward would get some of the credit but a whole lot of blame if a jilted underdog Heat team were to upset the Cavs or even win two or three games.
James was right, though, that it would be a series with plenty of back story and intrigue, assuming both clubs were healthy and ready to play at their best.
Speaking of which, there’s no truth to the rumor that James also has taken on medical duties for the Cavs. This update on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love was info straight out of the trainers room, via the media relations office, on tonight’s game: