Cleveland fell behind 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. It seemed like LeBron James‘ Finals appearance record would become an unhealthy 2-5. As the King teetered on the brink of joining some historically unenviable company, something remarkable happened: The Cleveland Cavaliers returned from the dead, winning the whole thing.
The NBA championship resided in the City of Cleveland. As everyone knows, this does not happen without James leading one of the greatest comebacks in the world of sports. Honestly, we never expected to happen — yet it did. Now the question remains: Can James do it again?
The King finally reunited with his crown, reaffirming his status as the greatest basketball player on the planet. However, some believe he may never reach the pinnacle of the sport again. In fact, we can give you 10 reasons why James will never win another NBA championship.
10. Eastern Conference is on the rise
For the better part of a decade, the Eastern Conference has been James’s personal playground. He’s won three NBA titles and made six straight Finals appearances. As evidenced by this year’s NBA Playoffs, he consistently steamrolls the competition in the early rounds of the postseason. But that may not be the case for much longer.
The Boston Celtics are strong, and other teams are rebuilding rather quickly. James remains firmly fixed on the throne, but teams in the East finally seem ready to challenge for conference supremacy in the coming seasons.
9. Winning titles is expensive
As Wade co-hosted Live with Kelly, the Chicago Bull fielded a question about the cheapest NBA player. Without hesitation, Flash gave a potentially surprising answer: LeBron James. How is this relevant to winning championships? Let us explain.
Although the salary cap keeps rising, James will do whatever it takes to maximize his financial situation. He will get a max contract, which he deserves, and is past the point of taking a pay cut; even if it means creating cap flexibility for another star. It costs a lot of money to build a championship-level team — we saw this with the Cavs. Given Wade’s comments and James’ approach to business, LeBron’s championship window may close sooner than expected.
8. Shot has regressed
James is a freak specimen unlike the National Basketball Association has ever seen. Because of his athleticism and basketball IQ, the King proves nearly unstoppable when attacking the basket. But as he ages, getting to the basket whenever he wants will become harder. Considering how fickle his jumper has become, this could be a problem.
Teams have started daring James to shoot the rock, and this strategy has worked in their favor. The King shot just 30.9% from three in during the 2015–16 season; he connected on a measly 34.8% on attempts ranging from 10–16 feet from the basket. If teams challenge him to beat them from the outside, then he needs a reliable jump shot. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
7. Exhaustion of the postseason
The fact that James already has a total of 8,383 playoff minutes under his belt is crazy. Yet the amount of miles he’s put on his body over the last six seasons is more concerning. Dating back to the 2010–11 season (when his streak of six straight Finals appearances began), James has led the postseason in total minutes on four occasions. Despite seeming superhuman at times, even a player like LBJ is not immune to wear and tear. Don’t be surprised when these minutes finally catch up to the King.
6. Has achieved the peak of his career goals?
For the first time in 52 years, the city of Cleveland won a professional sports championship. This was James’ goal ever since the Cavaliers selected him first overall in 2003. Not only that, but getting a title in Cleveland was the main reason he returned home after a four-year hiatus in South Beach. Any way you look at it, and no matter where he goes, this will be the crowning achievement of James’s basketball career. Does this change how he approaches the rest of his career? It’s certainly possible.
5. Your deity of choice hates Cleveland
Up until the Cavaliers championship, cynical Cleveland fans took to the terms “God Hates Cleveland” and “We’re Not Detroit” as morbid rallying cries at the Mistake by the Lake. The city of Cleveland had last won a professional sports championship in 1964, when Otto Graham ran the Wing T formation. In 1969, the city appeared to hit rock bottom as an industrial wasteland; the Cuyahoga River actually caught on fire through downtown Cleveland.
In recent years, Cleveland sports have remained inexorably linked to The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, and The Decision. By defeating the Golden State Warriors in 2016 in the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, some may be under the impression that “the curse” in Cleveland is officially over. But don’t kid yourselves, that’s not how curses work. Happiness is nothing more than a fleeting moment. The people in Cleveland would be wise to remember this.
4. Lack of depth
The Cleveland Cavaliers are plagued by a surprising lack of depth for being championship contenders. Last season, the un-drafted free agent Matthew Dellavedova (now in Milwaukee) filled in as the unlikely hero to back up Irving for timely steals, smart passes, and fearless drives to the hoop.
Still, the scrappy Delly and a second unit featuring the likes of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Tristan Thompson was of little match for the high-octane Golden State Warriors and their small ball lineups. Although the Cavaliers found redemption that season, much of that should be credited to the calming persona of head coach Tyronn Lue, this group is not known for its formidable bench presence. We don’t see that changing any time soon.
Even diehard Cleveland fans must recognize recently-retired Kobe Bryant as the ghost of Christmas Future for James. Like Bryant, the James odometer and prep-to-pro track includes a staggering amount of minutes in the form of All-Star exhibitions, deep playoff runs, and Olympic Gold. Bryant is approaching 50,000 regular season minutes, while James is coming off an unprecedented six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
Going forward, Cleveland brass will be forced to make the call; to either run James into the ground, like Bryant, or begin restricting his regular-season minutes, like Tim Duncan in San Antonio. James, at 31, is starting to show signs of wear and tear.
With time, James may find himself even less effective at crunch time, unless he puts in the real work to develop a consistent jump shot. To date, James has reverted to pounding the ball in the post and lurching into the paint late in the shot clock. For The King, Bully Ball will prove highly ineffective on the other side of 35.
2. LeBron as player-coach and pseudo GM
The Blatt firing, along with the lack of depth in Cleveland, may confirm speculation that James is the de facto player-coach and General Manager of the Cavaliers. Last season, James blurted out, “I don’t pay no bills around here,” and then offered up tepid support for Blatt. Although James is not physically writing checks, finance professor LeRoy Brooks estimated $500 million in annual stimulus to the Cleveland economy due to the “LeBron Effect.”
Despite his claims to the contrary, it’s clear that The King wields the power to force issues and surround himself with “his guys” in Cleveland. When he left Miami for Cleveland, James effectively swapped out Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the fresher legs of Love and Irving. As part of this deal, Cleveland shipped first overall pick Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota in exchange for Love. Interestingly, Cleveland initially brought on Blatt to teach professionalism to a young core of Wiggins and Irving. Instead, they asked him to steer a ship loaded with veterans and built to win now.
James seems to hold Cleveland executives hostage, making the team hire a buddy and “yes man” coach, while keeping owner Dan Gilbert’s checkbook at the ready to sign such trusted, deferential sidekicks. The drive to sign Lebron’s guys, however, creates a logjam of rebounders, shot blockers, and outside shooters who leave Cleveland with little cap space or flexibility to bring in more help.
Interestingly, Cleveland already given on Wiggins. (He could have provided this franchise with youthful energy, pressure defense, and playmaking against top competition.) Cleveland executives must give James what he needs and not exactly what he wants in order for this team to ever have a real shot at a championship.
1. Western Conference competition
For several years running, James and Company have steamrolled over the weak Eastern Conference before running into a stacked buzzsaw Out West. And while the Cavaliers finished on top in 2016, the quality in the Western Conference continues to remain the biggest impediment to James’s future championship aspirations.
Beyond the Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers are waiting in the wings as a potential matchup nightmare for the Cavs in the Finals. In 2014, Kawhi Leonard won Finals MVP honors for his spectacular end-to-end work against James in the Finals. For the series, Leonard stuffed the stat sheet for 18 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block per game to establish himself as one of the more complete players in the game.
After a bitter 2015 first-round playoff loss, the Spurs Dynasty went to work signing LaMarcus Aldridge as the grand prize of this latest free agent sweepstakes. Meanwhile, after falling to Cleveland in this year’s Finals, the Dubs, in a perfect example of the “rich getting richer,” reloaded by convincing Kevin Durant to ditch Oklahoma City in favor of the Bay Area. Despite his injury history, Durant will likely be ready for the playoffs.
Most alarmingly for James, however, is the fact that his primary Western Conference rivals are just now entering their respective primes. Kawhi Leonard is a precocious 24, while Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook are all 27 years old. In some circles, Steph Curry, and not James, is already being regarded as the best player in all of basketball. Certainly, James knows that “heavy lies the head that wears the crown.”