Right away, James, the four-time MVP, made it abundantly clear that he wasn't expecting immediate success. He recognized that he'd be helping a young roster grow, even if that meant an end to his streak of advancing to the NBA Finals each and every season for the last four years.
This isn't just speculation; it's coming from the mouth of the King himself.
In his announcement on Sports Illustrated's website, as told by Lee Jenkins, LeBron explicitly said that he understood the road would be a difficult one:
I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go.
The Miami Heat didn't immediately jell in 2010.
They did finish with a 58-24 record, trailing only the Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference, but the playoffs presented them with quite the challenge. After beating the Philadelphia 76ers in five games, LeBron helped Miami dominate the Boston Celtics in the same number of contests. It took only five games to beat the Bulls as well, but Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks upset Miami in the NBA Finals, handing LeBron the second of three Finals losses in his storied career.
Expecting to get even that far with the current roster would be foolish. This team is too young, too inexperienced and too porous on the defensive end, featuring zero rim-protecting bigs, a sieve—albeit an offensively dynamic one—at point guard and a 19-year-old who will be asked to fill a key role.
LeBron knows this. That's why he was so quick to temper the expectations.
However, there are two problems.
First, LeBron isn't exactly allowing for his patience to be tested. Rather than letting the young guns grow, he's pressuring the Cleveland organization into sending them to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Love, essentially flexing his muscles while trying to be competitive right away.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, he's already reached out to the All-Star power forward:
LeBron James has reached out to Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love and expressed a desire for them to play together in Cleveland, front-office sources told Yahoo Sports.
Love is enthusiastic about the idea of teaming with James on the Cleveland Cavaliers, sources said. James' decision to sign only a two-year contract that affords him the option of again becoming a free agent at the end of next season has not tempered Love's interest in joining James on the roster.
This news isn't leaking against James' will. Make no mistake about that, as his desires becoming public knowledge is—almost without a shadow of a doubt—a method of putting maximum pressure on the franchise he signed with this summer.
Surely the Cavaliers can't deny his primary wish right after he decided to come back home.
All of a sudden, Cleveland has gone from being hesitant to include Andrew Wiggins in any deal, preferring instead to capitalize on his lofty potential while keeping him on a rookie-scale contract, to making what essentially amounts to a godfather offer.
"The Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers have discussed a blockbuster trade centered on Kevin Love and the league's past two No. 1 draft picks, league sources told ESPN," reports Chris Broussard. "In an attempt to add Love, a three-time All-Star, the Cavaliers are willing to part with Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett."
That's a huge offer, one that could potentially cripple the organization's development down the road, and it's being made—at least in part—to appease LeBron.
All of a sudden, he'd go from tempering expectations to putting together a set so lofty they couldn't be satisfied by anything less than a title. Yes, even in the first year of what would amount to a newly formed Big Three playing together.
Talk about pressure.
He'd be responsible for forcing the development of the latest superteam—even if the lack of ability and commitment on the defensive end would prevent it from being too super—and that trumps the typical caveat that newly assembled teams have difficulty hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Plus, he's LeBron James, which is the second reason for the inevitability of knee-buckling levels of pressure.
"When I retire," the two-time champion told Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick in response to being asked when Kevin Durant would start feeling pressure to win titles. "When I retire. They're still talking about, am I going to win a third? You know..."
It's not hard to read between the lines and become privy to LeBron's tacit message: The pressure is still squarely on his shoulders.
Even though Durant won MVP this past season, and the San Antonio Spurs knocked him off his championship perch in dominant fashion, James is still the world's best player. So long as that's true (or at least not far from the truth), the expectation is always that he's going to compete at an extraordinarily high level.
At this stage of LeBron's historically great career, every season carries title hopes. Every playoff appearance is the most important of his tenure in the NBA, as it gives him an opportunity to further define his legacy, either in positive or negative fashion.
He might have led off his second stint with the Cavs by bringing common sense to the table, admitting that his team shouldn't immediately be considered the favorite to win a championship. At least not right away. However, that's a lot easier for fans to accept during the offseason than when the ball is about to be thrown up at center court at the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
Every win will inevitably be treated as either a step forward or a confirmation of elite status. Every loss will be considered disastrous, just as it was when LeBron first teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Do you remember how the sky started falling after the 2010-11 Heat lost three consecutive late-November games to depress their early-season record to a lackluster 8-7?
The Miami Heat suddenly doesn't seem so stacked, not yet anyway. The suggestion that the Heat could win 70 games this season we now know was folly. Sixty wins, at the moment, is a stretch. LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are 1-6 against teams with a winning record. Miami is a team in need of a creative playmaker in the back court, a brute in the front court and perhaps a coach the players fear just a little bit on the sideline. Instead of the Heat striking fear throughout the league, even chumps like the Indiana Pacers can't wait to get at Miami.
And now, Bleach Report's Ethan Skolnick, then writing for The Palm Beach Post, via Cleveland.com:
Has the Heat been humbled? In some ways, it seems so. The recalibration of expectations, at least for the short term, was more evident than ever in the aftermath of Wednesday's loss at Orlando.
After the morning shootaround, Wade acknowledged that the process of playing with two other stars in their prime, including another accustomed to dominating the ball, had 'been different than you'd expect' and 'tougher than you thought.'
Hell, President Barack Obama even weighed in.
"It takes some time for the team to come together," he said to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "There's no 'I' in team. So no matter how good a player is, no matter how good a group of players are, if they haven't played together before they are not going to be as good as a team that has played together a long time."
Sure, the supporting cast isn't as laden with established superstars as it was when the Big Three formed in South Beach, but it's still a team loaded with young talent and featuring the best basketball player in the world. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and either Wiggins/Bennett or Love is nothing to sneeze at.
The pressure was never going to be off LeBron, simply because he's, well, LeBron.
Adding Love to the equation takes the pressure dial switch up a few more notches. Adding Love at LeBron's behest ratchets it up further still.
There's just no escape. Such is the price the league's best player must pay each and every season, so long as he's still in his prime.
Something tells me he wouldn't have it any other way.
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