LeBron James is considered by many to be the best player in the league. While his statistics this season may lead to a fifth MVP trophy, his recent play could result to an early playoff exit for the Miami Heat. He has undergone several transformations during his 10-year career, from blooming player to dominant superstar, from the most-hated athlete in the league to an unstoppable force, both on the court and off.
Here are five reasons that James is transforming into the reason Miami may not repeat as NBA champions.
The Greatest Show (not Player) on Earth
In this modern era of constant exposure and unearned popularity, James is fighting to establish himself as global icon, a marquee name and corporate force. While the past two seasons have highlighted the success of the Miami Heat, LeBron seems determined to separate himself once more from the pack. While this may play into his upcoming free-agency plans, it shows how crucial it has become for James to be the most entertaining-and definitely not the most efficient-player on the court.
In recent losses to the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, James was a master showman, playing up to the crowds filled with glittering names and leaders of industry. A thunderous dunk and a great no-look pass bring the cheers, but did not bring victories to the team.
Filling the Stat Line
LeBron's hyper-awareness of the stat line has led him to sabotaging the efforts of his teammates while going for the same rebound or taking a rushed shot while he ignores the open man. In a recent article by ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, James rocked the basketball world by proclaiming he gets "jealous" of fellow superstar Kevin Durant's field goal attempts per game. This kind of statement highlights how much weight he places on the final totals even as he justifies this by saying he's "not much of a forced-shot guy." Three-point attempts on a 1-on-3 fast break? Spinning into the lane against shot-blockers? Looking for the foul as he puts up a shot in traffic?
To the average fan, those shots seem most definitely "forced."
Defense Doesn't Make Highlight Reels
James is actually a good defender. Or rather, he is capable of great defense. But consistent greatness means constant effort, and LeBron has recently shown he is willing to take plays off guarding his man. When James loses someone cutting to the three-point line, he sometimes runs into a screener on purpose to create the illusion that he was blocked out of the play.
Similarly, when he misses a rotation and that leads to made field goal, James is more willing than ever to snap at a teammate, demanding a quicker switch on defense. His failure to assume responsibility is at the core of recent losses.
Just as he has appeared selfish on some plays, there are moments when LeBron passes away an opportunity to score, even when he has a mismatch on defense. These squandered chances are almost an unspoken plea to teammates, begging them to take some of the scoring load off his shoulders. The post-game interview can whitewash this behavior with claims that James was "looking to get his teammates going." But repeatedly wasting an offensive series - and then losing games by single digits - isn't helping anyone but the opposing team.
His Flight May be Booked to Destinations Unknown
Lastly, there exists the possibility no Heat fan wants to consider - James may already be committed to playing somewhere else next season. He's enjoyed himself immensely in Miami, reaping rewards both individual and team-based but, ever the chameleon, he seeks to reinvent himself again. As Cleveland Cavalier fans undoubtedly would claim about the 2010 playoffs, LeBron is not averse to tanking a performance in order to facilitate his eventual separation.
Just like his ability to find an open teammate on the court, he is too aware of his off-court image to not have his future already determined. The basketball world looks for hidden meanings in everything LeBron says and does off the court, but perhaps his recent play may be the most telling sign of all. Does he know this season in Miami is his last and his lack of effort is making the prospects of leaving that much easier?
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