LeBron James Is the Next...Allen Iverson?
Blame the King. When LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003 donning the same number as His Airness, people predictably started making the overused comparison. LeBron James was supposed to be the next Michael Jordan, perhaps blessed with even more athleticism. However, as Kobe Bryant began to look more and more like Michael under to the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, LeBron's knack for getting triple doubles reminded people more of another MJ (Magic Johnson). People eventually stopped trying to force King James to wear Air Jordan's shoes.
Fast forward to last year, when LeBron lead the Cavaliers to the NBA finals. LeBron single handily propelled Cleveland to victory in a historical game five performance in the Palace of Auburn Hills. It was in that moment we realized we were witnesses to his greatness. We realized that LeBron is indeed a once in a lifetime athlete destined for stardom. However, after a disappointing 45 win season in the Eastern Conference and a remarkable, while simultaneously predictable, second round defeat to the Celtics, it appears that basketball fans have indeed witnessed something similar to this. The LeBron James story seems eerily similar to a former Eastern Conference superstar who headed a draft class with immeasurable talent.
Allen Iverson's experience in Philadelphia is almost identical to LeBron James' experience in Cleveland. Offensively limited by the minds of a Coach Brown, LeBron and A.I. lead scrappy, defensive teams to the playoffs year after year. In their first five seasons, LeBron and Iverson have won the same number of playoff series (five), as well as missed the playoffs the same number of times. Their greatest accomplishment was leading two less than stellar team to the NBA finals, only to follow that season up with a disappointing losses in the playoffs. Although LeBron probably won't make a classic rant about practice in his postseason press conference, you undoubtedly will see the same frustration that regression seems to evoke.
Somewhere between Iverson's epic finals run and his move to Denver, the consensus about Allen Iverson changed. When Philadelphia finally traded their unique superstar, it was viewed as a necessary evil. The people who once blamed Iverson's supporting cast for Philadelphia's shortcomings suddenly felt that Iverson was unfit to build a team around. They claimed that his style of play was too unconventional. Suddenly, his 50 point showcases were viewed as evidence that he was too much of a one man show.
Like Iverson, James is unlike anything the NBA has ever seen. He is a small forward in an undersized power forward frame that handles the ball like a point guard. There's no denying his immeasurable talents. However, Danny Ferry has been trying feverishly to put the right supporting cast around him over the past three years, but so far it hasn't worked. That may be where the problem lies. Great teams are always built with great chemistry. Similar to Iverson's Sixers, constant changes are continuously being made to adapt to LeBron's unique style.
I think LeBron will eventually win a championship. That's not really going out on a limb. It raises an interesting question: how exactly do you build a team around LeBron? Do you need a second scorer (Larry Hughes, Big Z), or spot up shooters (Damon Jones and Daniel Gibson)? Do you need another post presence, or does that just force LeBron to rely on his less than stellar jump shot? Hopefully, Cleveland will be able to figure out the answers.
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