LeBron James can’t win, even when he should

James Krause

James Harden of the Houston Rockets winning the NBA Most Valuable Player Award shows that basketball can be cruel and annoying.

Harden undoubtedly had a great year with the Rockets, leading the league in scoring averaging 30.4 points per game. In any other season, Harden would probably win MVP without any debate.

But Harden had his breakout year in the same season that LeBron James of Cleveland Cavaliers went off.

LeBron endured a ton of change this season, with scoring options like Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade being swapped for younger talent like Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood.

A total roster shake up at the deadline was suppose to get fresh legs to take pressure off James. Instead, it put more pressure on James to lead the inexperienced talent. What was left after wasplayers who’s best days have passed.

LeBron James led his team in nearly every statistic, including advanced analytical stats like production and win share. LeBron finished the season with an 8.9 value above replacement score, according to Basketball Reference. The next best player on the team in that stat, Kevin Love, scored a 1.4.

LeBron James found a way to carry a team that had no business being in the playoffs to the NBA Finals.

Which brings us to one of the major criticisms of the MVP Award in general: it’s lack of accounting for playoff performances.

Why not? Who in the world believes that the best player in the world is more of an asset in December against the Chicago Bulls then in Game Seven of the conference finals against the Boston Celtics?

To truly look at how valuable Harden and James are to their teams, look at their worst performances in the playoffs this year.

For LeBron James, 15 points in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston was by far his weakest performance.

So how did the team do? Awful. Only Kevin Love actually scored more than LeBron for the Cavs with 17, and the Cavs lost by 25.

Meanwhile, James Harden had multiple bad shooting nights in the playoffs, his worst being game two of the first round against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Harden went 2-for-18 from the field and finished with 12 points.

So the Rockets fell flat, right? Nope. Instead, Chris Paul led the team in scoring with 27, Gerald Green scored 21 off the bench, and Trevor Ariza scored 15. The Rockets end up blowing the Timberwolves out by 20.

James Harden’s situation is normal by the standards of good teams. If a top talent is having an off night, their teammates can bail them out to get the win. If Kevin Durant is having an off night for the Warriors, Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson can probably bail him out and the Warriors can still win.

These teams have multiple options, and while it means the team can be successful with ease, it diminishes the value of those key players when they have a safety net playing beside them.

Who on the Cavaliers this season was going to bail out LeBron James? Kevin Love? Game one against the Celtics suggests otherwise. JR Smith? The dude who throws games as much as he does bowls of soup? No thanks.

This Cavaliers team had every right to get bounced in the first or second round, and instead they made it to a fourth meeting in the Finals with the Warriors. That shows the value of LeBron James to a team.

The most telling image of LeBron James I can think of from this season was after game seven of the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs squeaked out a 87-79 victory over a talented young Celtics team.

In the post game trophy celebration, Kevin Love gets a loud ovation from his teammates. He didn’t play because of a concussion. ESPN’s Doris Burke interviews Head Coach Tyronn Lue and after the team cheers and shouts for the camera for a bit, Burke asks Lue about LeBron James’ performance.

James played all 48 minutes and led the team in scoring again with 35 points, but he’s not seen on camera. Players all suddenly look off to their right and soon the camera cuts to an exhausted LeBron James laying on the floor, hands on his head, while his teammates celebrated and cheered for an injured Kevin Love.

LeBron was without a doubt the most valuable player to his team this year, but I don’t think the world will know it until they see this Cavaliers team without him next season, who will probably return to the basement of the Eastern Conference as they did when the King left the first time.