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LeBron returns to Cleveland a more efficient, mature player that can take team further

Jul 12, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

LeBron James LeBron James

When he left, the Cavaliers were “LeBron and the LeBronettes” — it looked like a one man show. LeBron James was the best player in the game but he seemed to have plateaued, and the team around him was degenerating.

The LeBron James that returns to Cleveland is fully realized — the physical gifts were always there but his game is more efficient and mature. LeBron can beat you just about any way he chooses but now is smart enough to recognize the best way to do it.

It’s a LeBron who is personally more mature — you could see it in how he handled the announcement compared to four years ago.

It’s a LeBron who understands what it takes to climb to the mountaintop and can lead by example in a way he could not before — and in the interim the Cavaliers put together a talented and moldable roster that he can lead.

One can see the challenge but one can also see the fit.

Offensively, LeBron has always had a versatile game — he can play any position 1-4, he can post his defender up or take him out to the three point line and knock down shots over him, not to mention put the ball on the floor and blow by him. He’s a lightning quick point guard in a Karl Malone body. The tools have always been impressive. What is more impressive is how he has learned to use them.

LeBron has chosen efficiency. His final season in Cleveland LeBron took 32.2 percent of his shots from the long-midrange (10 feet out to the three point line) — the least efficient shot on the court. Last season in Miami that was down to 25.2 percent of his shots. In their place he got to the rim more often (39.9 percent of his shots last season were inside three feet) and he’s taking (and hitting) more threes.

That’s part of the reason he had a career best true shooting percentage of .649 last season, up from a still very good .604 his final season in Cleveland.

But the numbers only tell part of the story.

What has really changed is the mindset and maturity of LeBron’s game — he understands how to win now. He has Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and Eric Spoelstra to thank for some of that, but he also has the Dallas Mavericks as well. Despite the myths his critics like to tell themselves, winning didn’t come easy to the Heat. After losing in the 2011 Finals they had to have an honest discussion of who they were as a team and what sacrifices as players they were willing to make.

LeBron did his soul searching. He called guys who understood losing on the big stage and how to learn from it, including the legendary Jerry West. He absorbed.

Dwyane Wade told LeBron to take over, make it his team, it was time. LeBron did and the Heat won back-to-back tittles.

Things changed a little this season in Miami as the team aged and the burden of carrying them fell heavily on LeBron. He struggled with consistency of effort, particularly on the defensive end last season. Mind you when he is focused he is as good a defender as there is in the league, but under all the weight he carried for the team last year that effort wasn’t there. He settled for more jumpers (especially against the tight rotations of the Spurs in the Finals). Miami fell short.

LeBron did some soul searching again and came to the conclusion he wanted to go home to Northeast Ohio.

This LeBron can carry a team further than the one that left, and at moments he will have to do that with a young squad that doesn’t know winning, let alone winning a title.

But this LeBron knows how to lift a team up with him, how to lead and teach, how to help others grow. That is what he brings back from Miami that he left without. He brings back a fully realized, mature game because he is a more mature person that needed to go away to learn those lessons.

Cleveland is about to benefit from all of it.

  1. stoutfiles - Jul 12, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    “Sportswriters Are Obsessed With LeBron’s “Maturity”

    deadspin.com/lebron-james-tells-the-sports-world-exactly-what-it-wan-1603746132/1603846485/+barryap

  2. worldbfree4me - Jul 12, 2014 at 8:32 AM

    Spurs win their 6th Championship due to, lack of competition!

    • casualcommenter - Jul 12, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      The Western Conference is still very legit.
      Not a Clippers fan, but they made some nice moves this offseason.
      The Thunder are still a force whenever their Big 3 is healthy.
      Heck, the Mavs took the Spurs to 7 games last year, and they got better this offseason too so long as Tyson Chandler is healthy in the playoffs.

    • aboogy123456 - Jul 12, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      I’m not sure what people are missing here. This Cleveland team is already better than the Miami Heat team last year. Wiggins is the real deal, and can guard the opposing team’s best player. Kyrie can carry the offense and score when Lebron is sitting. That alone is already better than the Heat, but then you add in good role players like Varejao, thompson, Waiters, and even Bennett, and the Cavaliers are the scariest team in the league. They are only going to get better, too, and could actually win 5 championships. Let’s not act like LeBron is going to a bad team and bringing them up himself.

      • seansull83 - Jul 12, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        Cleveland hasn’t been to the playoffs since LeBron left. Raw talent is nice but realistically it took a year for the Heat to win a chip with Bron, and they had 3 superstars, what makes you think a new coach and young players can do better with LeBron. Experience of the moment is so valuable. They can shock us, do t get me wrong, but i think this team is gonna need time to mature.

      • realfootballfan - Jul 12, 2014 at 4:28 PM

        Miami didn’t win the title this past year. The Spurs did. The question is if Cleveland is as good as they are.

      • kavika6 - Jul 15, 2014 at 2:43 AM

        Ball hogs don’t have a chance against REAL team ball, at least since David Stern retired.

    • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      The Spurs seem to take pride in not winning rings back-to-back. The further they can spread them out, the better, apparently.

      • realfootballfan - Jul 12, 2014 at 4:30 PM

        There was this Laker team with Kobee and Shaq back earlier in the decade that kind of spaced them out for them, lol.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 5:26 PM

        Shaq and Kobe haven’t been together since 2004. The Spurs still didn’t win back-to-back after they broke up.

        And now there is this OKC team with Durant and Westbrook.

      • realfootballfan - Jul 12, 2014 at 5:56 PM

        That’s why I said Kobee and Shaq earlier in the decade. Kobee did win a couple of them when Phil came back with a different cast. That spanned the bulk of these 6 titles that they have, that entire era of Laker basketball. Btw, those Laker teams, a pretty good reason not to have back-to-back titles on your resume, lol.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 6:05 PM

        They lost to the Mavs in 2006 though… so, nope.

        The Kobe-Gasol Lakers weren’t that good. They were timed right.

      • realfootballfan - Jul 12, 2014 at 7:56 PM

        That same Maverick team that had the best record in basketball and was favored to win the title that year and was up 2-0 on Miami in the Finals? SA btw took them to 7 games and overtime in the 7th in the best playoff series I’ve personally watched in the last 20 years. It was a shame they both couldn’t have gotten a ring for that series. It was that good of a display of team basketball on both sides with every game being a close match. Also, that was around the time when Tim Duncan noticeably began showing his age, and Popovich began changing the team’s philosophy around. In the meantime, they kept overachieving in the win column during this transition period despite the team being filled with players like George Hill, Richard Jefferson during his career decline, and other spare parts that no one saw as championship material, until it came back together again for another ring a month ago. It’s like the Patriots in the NFL. Something has to be said about being consistently good even though your team on paper shouldn’t have even been in the conversation for a championship between their last in 2007 until the one they lost to the Heat in 2013.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 7:58 PM

        Yeah, the Mavericks, who were not the Lakers.

        The point is San Antonio couldn’t get it done regardless. They’re probably not going to repeat this year either.

      • kavika6 - Jul 15, 2014 at 2:47 AM

        Just change your name to “Spurs hater” already. What a poor loser. No matter how many insults you muster, your Heat got demolished by the Spurs. Just grow up and move on.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 15, 2014 at 3:02 AM

        Everybody has already moved on. Ask most Americans who won the NBA championship and they wouldn’t be able to tell you. They’d say Cleveland, probably. Maybe you’re salty about that. Everyone is fawning over LeBron while your Spurs are being ignored… again.

        You’d say that’s fine as long as you keep winning, but I know it bothers you. Because it really doesn’t feel like winning – it feels like disrespect, doesn’t it.

  3. samsonight1010 - Jul 12, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    The spurs greatest competition showed when ibaka was healthy, it wasn’t the heat. If the thunder land gasol, watch out. I’ll be cheering for my cavs as I always have, but I expect for at least one more year the WCF will determine the league champion

    • beach305 - Jul 12, 2014 at 9:17 AM

      The heat this year didn’t have a bench.

      • realfootballfan - Jul 12, 2014 at 4:33 PM

        Yep. The role players made the team the oldest in the league. Riley was turning it over anyway, but now he’s turning it over out of necessity. What happens if the Rhondo talks heat up. Sorry for the pun, but if they got him and added him to Bosch and Wade along with these new role players, it’s going to be a problem for Cleveland and the Western Conference teams as well.

    • casualcommenter - Jul 12, 2014 at 9:34 AM

      Not sure why you’re getting downvoted.

      The Cavs are one of the favorites to win the East, but even LeBron James himself said their roster isn’t championship caliber yet. He views it as a 2-3 year development project for all the young guys on the roster, and I think he’s right.

      Still, that implies the Western Conference champion is the likely champion.

      • aboogy123456 - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:02 AM

        I don’t like how Lebron said that, and I couldn’t disagree with him more. The cavs just landed the best prospect since Lebron himself, and he’s teaming up with wiggins and Kyrie to form what will be the best big 3 in the league. I’m very happy that he went to the cavs, but can we stop pretending that it’s not a great situation to win right away and for the rest of his career? The real challenge was winning with his overrated supporting cast in miami, this isn’t the challenge he’s making it out to be.

      • kinggw - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:37 AM

        He implied it because its true. Wiggins isn’t a NBA star. He’s a guy with a lot of potential. A couple years ago wasnt Harrison Barnes the best prospect since Lbj? He’s turned out to be an average player so far. Wiggins may be good, but he’s not a generational player a la Durant or Lebron. The reason why its going to take a few years for the Cavs to cash in on James coming home is the young team surrounding him. The overrated supporting cast in Miami you mentioned will be a playoff team. The team Lbj is going to was not.

        Kyrie Irving is a big talent. Like a lot of today’s young players, his hype preceded him and he was labeled a star before he rightfully earned the moniker. Irving makes nice circus shots, has hit a few buzzer beaters and can score with the best of them. He is not a good defender and doesn’t make his team better. It’s telling that his most electrifying moments in the NBA have come in all star weekend games. The kid is good, but he’s overrated. If Lebron went to a team where Monta Ellis was the best player, would people think that was a championship caliber squad? No, that’s who Irving compares to these days.

        The rest of the team isnt that good. They also have a new coach, bringing in a new system. People get too caught up in the fact they have a bunch of high lottery picks, they don’t acknowledge that most of these kids can’t play. Adding Lbj automatically makes them one of the better teams in the East on paper. It doesn’t make them championship caliber team. They may get there but its going to take a while.

      • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        kinggw…

        Harrison Barnes? Sure, there were things said about him here and there, but outside of basketball fans nobody knew who he was. In high school Wiggins was receiving the type of national exposure and hype reserved for generational players. That doesn’t mean he’ll be one, but Barnes was never on that level.

        As he exhibited last night, Wiggins is the type of player that makes a crowd ooh and ahh just going up to get a rebound. That’s very LBJ-esque.

        And about Durant – Wiggins might already be a better defender than KD.

      • bhunter1995 - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:52 PM

        @Kinggw – Good comment, at a glance this team looks like a sure fire finalist but when you break it down I don’t think it is a lock that they will even make the finals. Lets not forget that the Bulls might sign Melo and that team will be filthy, furthermore the Pacers are still around, they collapsed late this season but they have a good core of players and they will come back next season with something to prove.

        Kyrie is highly overrated, he is a solid scorer and playing off LBJ will help him score more efficiently but he isn’t better then D Wade was when the Heat lost to the Mavs in 2011 so saying that LBJ + Kyrie = Instant championship is ignorant. Wiggins is a question mark, will he be good, I think so, but he isn’t a player you can rely on at this point in his career when it comes to high pressure playoff games. The rest of the team is basically role players, this is a cheaper version of the MIA big three when you break it down, and the Cavs have no bench and no post scoring. Neither Varajao or Thompson have a good post game and neither is a reliable floor spacer so they will have clogged lanes.

        When the big three in Miami was brought together it consisted of the second best SG in the league/top five player (Wade) , the best player in the game at the time (LBJ), and a top 5 PF (Bosh was a 22-11 guy in Toronto, people like to forget that).

        The Cavs big three is consisted of LBJ, a top ten PG (bottom of that ten btw), and an unproven inexperienced rookie. If the Bulls get Melo they will roll the Cavs in the ECF.

      • kavika6 - Jul 15, 2014 at 2:52 AM

        It doesn’t matter if “The King” takes his team to the finals anyway. He’ll just be demolished by the Spurs yet again.

    • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:05 PM

      Or maybe it was the Mavs…

  4. beach305 - Jul 12, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    What does this say about the cavalier organization if he had to leave in order to learn how to win?

    Anyway I’m happy for lebron.

    Go heat!

    • balsagna - Jul 12, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      I think it says that his decision to return has more to it than just basketball.

      • casualcommenter - Jul 12, 2014 at 9:36 AM

        Not sure why you’re getting downvoted.

        LeBron himself said there’s more to it than just basketball.

        He’d prefer to win as many championships as possible.
        However, he explicitly wrote that if given a choice of winning just 1 championship for Ohio versus multiple rings elsewhere, he’d prefer to win just 1 championship for his home state due to his family ties.

        I can think of 3 teams who gave LeBron a better chance of winning a ring this upcoming year than the Cavs, and LeBron himself said he viewed the Cavs as a 2-3 year development project before they’re a legit contender.

  5. remyje - Jul 12, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    “But this LeBron knows how to lift a team up with him” People love to say this.

    and that “he makes everyone around him better….”

    What happened in the Finals?

    • aboogy123456 - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:05 AM

      he was fantastic in the finals, and did make his teammates better. For the first time in his career, he has a supporting cast with the longevity to have a real dynasty. I think the league belongs to cleveland now, for at least the next 5 years. And i’m a lakers fan.

      • remyje - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:28 AM

        i’ll agree he was fantastic in the finals…. but he didn’t “make” his teammates better obviously..

        and sorry to hear that you’re a lakers fan

      • realfootballfan - Jul 12, 2014 at 4:42 PM

        Not really. This is the other notion that is getting on my nerves. He played just as badly as the rest of the team outside of the game they won (a game Wade was a pretty big part of winning in the 4th quarter too btw), game one up until he started cramping up, and the first quarter or so of game five. Otherwise, he was just as bad as the rest of the team while they were getting rolled or maybe I missed him being on the court too with the rest of the team wile SA ballooned their leads to 20+ in games 3-5.

    • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      You do not understand the meaning of the phrase. Stockton, Magic, Bird, MJ – they also made their teammates better – but that didn’t mean they would win every series they played in!

      The phrase only means to say that these greats make the game easier for their teammates through their unselfishness and intelligence… through their ability to manipulate the defense to get their teammates better looks… through their ability to always deliver the ball in the right spot at the right time… through the contagiousness of their unselfishness and hunger… through their leadership. But these guys can’t play for their teammates. Their teammates still have to carry their weight, and unfortunately sometimes they don’t.

      • remyje - Jul 12, 2014 at 5:27 PM

        i guess like you didn’t understand the heat weren’t going to 3peat… or was that the usual being delusional

      • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 6:01 PM

        No, that was just a fan being a fan. But there is a real definition of the term here. It isn’t up for debate. Making your teammates better doesn’t mean they will always be great and that you will always win.

  6. money2long - Jul 12, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    Or maybe he will still choke in the clutchest of moments.

    • antistratfordian - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      The clutchest possible moment in the NBA would be a shot attempt to win a championship in the closing seconds of a Finals Game 7. LeBron was there and drilled it.

      • money2long - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:09 PM

        Dead clock.

  7. BrownsTown - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    LeBron to the Cavs?

    Not. Gonna. Happen.

    Right?

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