When the Cleveland Cavaliers hit their low point this season, even their superstar began to wonder about their chances of recovering.
Now, with the Cavaliers set to open play in the NBA Finals on Thursday, LeBron James opened up about his midseason doubts.
Referencing a stretch in December and January during which Cleveland went 3-9, James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on Wednesday, “It was at points where, ‘OK, will the Cavs even make the playoffs?’ And I was like, ‘OK, I am not settling for that conversation — now that is just ridiculous. Now I have got to get into the postseason.’”
James said he had to improve his own attitude because his outlook was affecting the team.
“I was like, ‘OK, I am not quite sure what we are going to do with this ballclub; we are not playing good basketball,’ but you can’t sell yourself short,” James told Nichols. “You have so many people looking up to you, you have so many kids to inspire and you, yourself, you have always talked about be as great as you can be every day, so I kind of hit that switch before the trade deadline.”
The Cavaliers subsequently made a number of moves at the trade deadline, unloading Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and Dwyane Wade while bringing in George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson.
The newcomers haven’t provided major production, yet the Cavaliers still are back in the NBA Finals. For the fourth year in a row, they will meet the Golden State Warriors, looking to even the championship-round rivalry at two titles apiece.
James is the biggest reason for the team’s ongoing success. He is averaging 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the postseason after posting regular-season averages of 27.5, 8.6 and 9.1, respectively.
“I’ve tried to put this franchise at a level that is always seen in a positive light,” James said. “From a basketball standpoint, from a social standpoint, from a brand standpoint. I get a lot of the light and the headlines, but I’m one, as long as I’m here playing for this franchise, when you see the Cavaliers, I want you to think of prestige and a great organization.”
James on Wednesday denied that he prompted the Cavaliers to trade away Kyrie Irving last summer. Irving went to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Thomas, Crowder, Ante Zizic and a first-round pick that will be No. 8 in next month’s draft.
“Even if you start back to the summertime where I felt like it was just bad for our franchise just to be able to trade away our superstar point guard,” James told Nichols. “A guy that I had been in so many battles with over the last three years and obviously I wasn’t a part of the communications and know exactly what went on between the two sides. But I just felt like it was bad timing for our team.
“So I felt like the odds were against us from the summer. And then you know we come into the season and our All-Star point guard that we got from Boston (Thomas) wasn’t able to play until January. We just had so many things going with our team. We shuffled in different lineups, we shuffled in different players, we made a trade at the deadline, and I can’t sit here right now and say that the Finals was a part of my thinking.”
Looking ahead to his potential free agency this summer and whether his sometimes shaky relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might affect whether he remains in Cleveland, James said, “We’re going to see.”
—Field Level Media