NBA: LeBron James move keeps Cavaliers under the microscope

With each location move, celebrated or decried, the baggage has become a heavier burden. Glass has covered more and more of LeBron James' basketball house.

"That comes with the tag of being the best player," James Jones, a member of King James' court in Cleveland and Miami, said. "It's fair to say that people take the temperature of his team, his entire situation, multiple times a day."

Heavy scrutiny: LeBron James passes the ball.
Heavy scrutiny: LeBron James passes the ball. Photo: AP

To illustrate his point, Jones gestured to the news media mob scene a few feet away in the visitors' locker room on Wednesday night at Barclays Center. For the second time within hours, James was having to explain away Monday's 34-point thrashing in Cleveland by the Golden State Warriors.

Streaks of rain on those big picture windows, he called it; not necessarily cracks in the foundation.

"I think he gets frustrated with the repetitive nature of the questions," Jones said. "The people asking are very savvy - the reporters have been around this game a long time and they know a lot. And so they ask the questions they already know the answer to.

"He says the same thing again and again - it's the same process we had in Miami, the same process the Spurs undertook, the same process the Warriors undertook. You look at every team; their situation requires patience and a process. We understand it's nothing personal, not unique to us."


But what is exclusive to James is the consistency and intensity of the scrutiny. With James, the questions too often sound like accusations. No other historically impactful NBA luminary has been poked, prodded and proclaimed, one extreme thing or another.

Not Michael Jordan. Not Kobe Bryant. Not Magic Johnson. Not Larry Bird. Certainly not James' contemporaries, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Kevin Durant.

We do acknowledge that James came with a spotlight on his head - his high school games worthy of national television coverage - and a target on his back, tattooed with a self-indulgent decree, "Chosen 1." We understand he lives, unlike Jordan, in the age of Twitter, of endless mind reading, name-calling and noise making.

Many would argue that James is not the best player anymore. But that has only enhanced the analysis, the anticipation that he will ultimately fail to meet expectations, fulfil his legacy, whatever that is and by whomever it has been imposed.

Of course, the critics know that this is, first and foremost, a team sport. But the world has to know: Has Stephen Curry taken something more intangible than the Most Valuable Player Award? Was Monday's rout more than a singular beat down in a still-developing season?

Or was it more the symbolic rendering of James as Ronda Rousey, bloodied and perhaps permanently bowed?

At 31, in his 13th season, his hairline in steady retreat, James sounded a bit weary of being the daily toss-up in the generic talk show after his Cavaliers took out their frustrations on the hapless and hopeless Brooklyn Nets, 91-78.

"I actually wish that teams would forget about us and the league would forget about us and for the first time in my career I could fly under the radar," he said.

There is no chance of that any time soon, and he should know the suffocating surveillance is, in part, a predicament of his own production. Had he never left Cleveland for Miami, he would by now have won that ever-elusive championship for his beloved Northeast Ohio, or not, but the story line would have become tired and worn. The herd would have moved on.

Going to Miami upped the self-promotional ante and made James the antihero, until he and the Heat delivered consecutive titles among four successive trips to the league finals. The return to Cleveland has reinstated the must-win mandate, if only once for the long-suffering masses. That weight may turn out to be even greater than the championship ring chase against Jordan and Bryant - by which the mythmakers would have still been evaluating James had he remained in Miami.

It is always going to be something with James, a lightning rod in a tell-all time, who has twice now rewritten the narrative, unlike Jordan, Bryant, Johnson and Bird. Excluding Jordan's two-year, endgame fling in Washington, they all stayed in one city, one environment, respected and beloved for whatever they ultimately achieved.

In these ultimately unresolvable discussions, the quality of the teams - and their staunchest opposition - is always in play. Like it or not, James' teammates are under the daily microscope, too.

In Miami, constantly questioned were Dwyane Wade's health and Chris Bosh's heart. In Cleveland, it is Kyrie Irving's maturity and Kevin Love's mettle.

Maybe they are good enough, maybe they are not. At a morning practice on Wednesday, James complained that people wanted teams to "come together, like instant oatmeal". He continued: "Throw it in the microwave, in 30 seconds, it's done, ready to go. It doesn't work that way. You need time and you need adversity together. You need hardships. You need times when you don't like each other. You need the worst of times in order to become really good."

No argument there, even if it has already been forgotten that James' Heat had a variety of in-season struggles, and last season's Cavs were 19-20 before losing in the NBA finals to the Warriors after leading, two games to one.

Conveniently ignored in the latest sounding of alarms is that Irving has played 14 games this season after recovering from knee surgery; the trade deadline looms next month with the possibility of roster upgrades; and, oh, right, the Warriors and their defensive match-up nightmare for Love are probably less certain of getting out of the West than the Cavs are of surviving the East.

"We're going to keep playing, keep building, and if we get there, you'll know," Jones said, referring to the pursuit of the higher - or highest - level.

If they don't, we'll know and hear about that, too. As Jones put it, multiple times a day.

New York Times