Last Monday, he and his Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated in Game 5 of the NBA Finals by the Golden State Warriors. This Monday, LeBron watched as his general manager, David Griffin, parted ways with the Cavs — just hours after reports that Cleveland was trying to find a way to acquire either Paul George or Jimmy Butler.
At 32 years old, with his future with the Cavaliers in doubt and facing a Western Conference goliath that’s only going to get stronger, LeBron is at a crossroads. He still has a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference, and he’ll be back in the NBA Finals next June to try to add to his 3-8 record with a championship on the line.
There’s no guarantee that the King will win another ring before he’s all said and done. In fact, here are five reasons his championship-winning days could be over.
His current franchise is a complete mess
It was all too easy to overlook the dysfunction in Cleveland when the Cavaliers were the toast of the town. Monday revealed just how deep the fissures run within this organization, though.
Not only did the Cavs part ways with GM David Griffin, owner Dan Gilbert reportedly didn’t consult LeBron on the decision — even after the King advocated for Griffin’s return.
That’s fine. Gilbert is the employer, and LeBron’s just an employee. You know, an employee who saved your team after you’d become a laughingstock in the post-LeBron era. Now, with the best player of his generation potentially looking for greener pastures in 2018, you’ve alienated him once again.
NBA team success starts at the very top. Every minute wasted negotiating with your former general manager or haggling over a luxury tax payment threatens LeBron’s chances of beating the Warriors for his fourth championship.
Perhaps more important, the rest of the Association is paying attention to the chaos in Cleveland. Why would any star want to take a discount to join forces with the Cavs when the ownership is such a disaster?
A trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George could have put the Cavaliers in solid position this summer. Instead, LeBron is in worse position now than when the Finals ended.
He hasn’t had an elite coach in years, and that’s not changing in Cleveland
I like Tyronn Lue. I think he gets a bad reputation as someone who just rolls the ball out there and lets the guys play, like most of LeBron’s coaches. The truth is that it’s not easy to coach the King and all the egos that come with a Big Three.
Still, Lue is not anywhere near the NBA’s upper echelon of coaches. He’s certainly no better than Golden State’s Steve Kerr, and Kerr won’t unleash the Warriors’ full potential with the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll.
LeBron’s best hope to win another title might be a coaching change in Cleveland, yet there’s little reason to expect one. Reports indicate Gilbert could hire Chauncey Billups as president of basketball operations, and the former Pistons point guard is a friend of Lue.
If there’s any validity to that report, Lue could be a member of the Cavaliers long after LeBron’s tenure in Cleveland comes to an end, which does the King no favors. He needs all the help he can get, including from his coaching staff. Without that help, every championship chase is an uphill struggle.
The Warriors are setting themselves up for a real dynasty
Monday brought another report Kevin Durant will take a one-year deal this offseason to give Golden State maximum flexibility. The Warriors can re-sign KD, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, then pay Stephen Curry next summer with no real financial repercussions.
Golden State’s core is staying intact for the foreseeable future, which means the NBA’s greatest superteam of all time will keep getting better as it keeps playing together. Chemistry has a funny way of building on itself like that.
But let’s be generous and say the Warriors fall apart over the next couple of seasons. The Spurs showed this postseason that they’d be no pushover in the Finals. On that note, FOX Sports’ Skip Bayless is adamant that San Antonio would have defeated Cleveland for the championship this season — and that’s before the Spurs potentially add Chris Paul this summer.
Eastern Conference upstarts such as the Celtics, Bucks and maybe even the Sixers loom down the road, as well, and who knows what the Lakers might accomplish over the next couple of years.
Add it all up, and LeBron will likely be an underdog to win the title every season for the rest of his career.
His teammates aren’t up to the challenge of winning a title
While the Cavs would be in much better shape if Griffin were coming back for next season, the former Cleveland GM isn’t faultless in the team’s current situation.
Signing J.R. Smith to a four-year, $57 million deal last summer gave the Cavs little wiggle room in free agency when coupled with Tristan Thompson’s five-year, $82 million contract. Both players underwhelmed in the Finals, and there’s not much reason to expect they’ll outperform expectations moving forward.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are All-Stars in their own right, sure, but they aren’t equal to the likes of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. And while LeBron can elevate their games to a championship-winning level, he no longer has the ability to lift others at the same time he’s playing his very best.
Trading Love for Paul George would help a little bit — not enough to make the Cavs favorites over the Warriors, though.
Now, you might argue that LeBron doesn’t have to stay in Cleveland. He could form a superteam of his own and win a fourth title.
Maybe, but here’s the thing …
LeBron has to pick and choose his spots a little more often entering his 15th NBA season. His age and all of the minutes played are catching up to him, whether we like it or not.
That’s not enough against a superteam like the Warriors. To beat Golden State, you have to be absolutely elite for all 48 minutes.
Ring-chasing is harder than it sounds, even for the King
So let’s say 2018 rolls around and LeBron gets the hell out of Cleveland, because that’s the smart thing to do and he’s a smart person.
Even if he goes to a team that can think about taking on the Warriors, the new CBA makes it nearly impossible to build a superteam similar to the one in Oakland. There won’t be another massive cap jump to let a team sign a guy like Kevin Durant, for one, and the super-maximum contract (at 35 percent of the salary cap) precludes a team from bringing more than two superstars together in free agency.
Unfortunately, you need just as much firepower as the Warriors have to beat them, if not more.
There is an answer, I suppose. LeBron could head West to join Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony and DeAndre Jordan with the Jerry West-led Clippers. L.A. one-ups Golden State with five All-Stars — but that’s a precarious situation dependent on the Knicks trading Melo for 25 cents on the dollar and the Clips somehow putting together a top-10 defense out of that rotation.
It’s not a perfect solution because none exists for LeBron. All he can do is hope the world works out in his favor somehow, someway. If not, three rings will have to suffice for the King.