Thomsen: This Is Not What LeBron Signed Up For

The Cavs are deeply flawed, Ian Thomsen says, but James is giving them "a chance to win in spite of everything"

The DA Show
April 17, 2018 - 11:58 am

USA Today Images


The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t just lose Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with the Pacers; they were embarrassed. They trailed by 20 in the first quarter and ultimately lost, 98-80. LeBron James didn’t attempt a shot until more than 10 minutes into the game but still finished with a triple-double.

But if the Cavs lose this series – or fall short of the Finals – don’t blame James. Ian Thomsen sure won’t.

“I hold him absolutely blameless in this,” the NBA writer and author said on The DA Show. “He’s trying to bail out the boat and propel it forward at the same time. I think he’s going to get by this series. I think they’re going to win it, but it’s going to be a very difficult playoffs. The further LeBron goes in the playoffs, it’s going to be one of the stories building up: Can this old guy in his 15th year who played every game and led the league in minutes and has done everything you could have asked of him, can he lead a bunch of young nobodies – apart from Kevin Love – to the NBA Finals? I think people are going to look at LeBron in a new light as this playoffs goes along if he’s able to keep this team afloat and push them forward – because this is not what he signed up for. And yet, here he is giving his team a chance to win in spite of everything.”

If James is blameless, who’s fault is it that the Cavs’ roster is so flawed?

“They were built to win now, and they did, and they’ve made the NBA Finals every year he’s been there – and then Kyrie Irving left,” Thomsen said. “Now it turns out Kyrie Irving wouldn’t have been available to them anyway, but he left. That changes everything. You take away Kevin McHale from Larry Bird, it changes everything – or take Kareem away from Magic, take Dwyane Wade away from LeBron in Miami. If you take the No. 2 player out of a championship team, the whole things falls apart.”

The Cavs haven’t fallen apart just yet. They’ve lost one game. There’s still a long way to go.

“There isn’t a team in the East that’s got more than two stars – and Cleveland’s got two stars between Kevin Love and LeBron,” Thomsen said. “And when you’re comparing two of a kind, LeBron is the ace. LeBron is the one that breaks the tie. That’s why I think – in spite of their terrible defense, in spite of their inexperience and the youth of their roster – they still have a chance to win because there’s no Warriors team, there’s no Rockets team in the East, it’s going to be really fun to see what LeBron can do as the underdog this year.”

On a related note, Thomsen also discussed his new book, The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA. Thomsen believes that James’ 2011 Finals loss to the Mavs changed the trajectory of his career and helped the NBA immensely.

“The easiest way to explain it is to go back to Pat Riley and LeBron,” Thomsen said. “In July of 2010, the night of The Decision – when LeBron had gone on TV and announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach and he turned himself into a national villain, the most hated athlete in America – he flew on a private plane down to Miami. Pat Riley told me he went down to the tarmac to greet LeBron, and LeBron comes out and they embrace. Pat could feel the weight of this guy leaning on him. LeBron was heartbroken. We think of a guy that’s got everything going for him, but he was 25 years old, he was supposed to be The Chosen One, the next Jordan, he’s a guy that likes to please people – and he had just read the letter from Dan Gilbert vilifying him.”

A few days earlier, Gilbert was telling LeBron how much he loved him. Now he was calling him a loser and a fraud and said the Cavs were better off without him.

“He’d been driven away from the only home he’d ever known,” Thomsen said. “So here you have LeBron, who’s desperate to fulfill his potential, his future, and Pat Riley’s desperate to win championships as he had in the past. They both needed each other, they’re embracing there, and the whole league changed as a result of it. Pat and the Heat taught LeBron how to win, turned him into this player that he is today, and LeBron renewed Pat Riley, the godfather of the ’80s. The Heat won two more championships after Pat pulled off the biggest coup we had ever seen in free agency, so it really all evolved around there.”