CHICAGO — I was talking to someone who has spent nearly all of his adult life working in pro basketball. We were comparing the Golden State Warriors to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Most of the discussion covered the usual ground. The Warriors added Kevin Durant. They now have a Big Four, rather than a Big Three … how will that work?
To set a context to the story, my talk with the NBA veteran was before the Warriors were spanked, 129-100, by the San Antonio Spurs in Oakland’s Oracle Arena. Our key point was that Golden State has no one like LeBron James, and it reaches beyond the basketball court.
James is the Cavs’ leader. He is the heartbeat. He is the strongest voice in the locker room. He truly is a coach on the court.
Who is that with Golden State? The Warriors have some great players. My favorite is Klay Thompson, who is extremely underrated because of his defense.
Stephen Curry is the back-to-back MVP. Durant is one the top five players in the NBA. Draymond Green is a very good player.
But who is the leader? That will be one of their issues.
As Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the Bay Area media a few days ago: “We have plenty of talent, but talent isn’t going to be enough.”
I sense he was talking about team chemistry — and yes, leadership.
ABOUT LEBRON’S IMPACT
From the moment James announced his return, he became the sun around which all the other player planets revolved. James could organize team dinners, take the team to Tribe games — and everyone shows up.
Despite blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavs in The Finals, the Warriors did have real team chemistry in the last few years. Kerr came up with the “Strength In Numbers” motto to stress the idea of team unity.
Kerr often stressed how the bench players are as critical to the team’s success as its stars. The Warriors had worked out team leadership with Green, Curry and Thompson serving various roles. It was successful until the Cavs pulled off the most remarkable comeback in NBA Finals history.
Over and over, James kept talking about how all the Cavs needed to do was get to a Game 7 in The Finals — and he’d take care of the rest.
James didn’t mean he’d dominate the ball and the scoring. He was talking about how he knew the type of leadership needed to win a Game 7 on the road.
It showed in that game.
SPREADING OUT SHOTS
Adding Durant is fascinating.
Cavs fans know how hard it has been for Kevin Love to find his place on the court with Kyrie Irving and James. Chris Bosh went through the same frustrations during his four years in Miami with Dwyane Wade and James.
Yes, there is a Big Three … but often the third guy feels like a third wheel or a spare tire. Golden State is trying to make it work with four. And the player they added to the mix — Durant.
Last season, here is how the Warriors’ Big Three divided up shot attempts:
- Curry: 20.2
- Thompson: 17.3
- Green: 10.1
Durant averaged 19.2 shots with Oklahoma City last season.
The Warriors can create more shots for their new Big Four by playing those guys more — and other players shooting less. Perhaps that is what will happen. But most nights, at least one player will not be seeing the ball as much as he did before this season.
With the Cavs last season, here’s how the Big Three shot attempts broke down:
- James: 18.6
- Irving: 16.6
- Love: 12.7
The Cavs have won a title and Love received a lot of attention for his defense on Curry in the final minute of Game 7. After that, Love is more comfortable here. Winning a title does that.
Love also earned the respect of James and his teammates by sacrificing some of his offense to concentrate on defense and rebounding.
LEBRON VS. DURANT
Durant has had a terrible time trying to figure out how to beat James, no matter what jersey James is wearing. In the regular season, James has a 13-3 record — 8-0 with the Cavs dating back to James’ first tenure in Cleveland.
James also beat Durant in four of five games when Miami met Oklahoma City in the 2012 NBA Finals.
In terms of scoring, they are almost identical, both averaging 27 points. But James has consistently found a way to make sure his team got the best of Durant and Oklahoma City.
Will that change now that Durant has joined the Warriors? It’s a fun story to watch during their two regular season games, and probably in The Finals.
ABOUT MY CAVS BOOK
My schedule the next two weeks to sign copies of my Cavs book: THE COMEBACK:
Nov. 5: Buckeye Book Fair: 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Nov. 9: Barnes & Noble, Crocker Park, 7-8 p.m.
Nov. 12: Learned Owl Books, Hudson: 1-2 p.m.
Nov. 14: Barnes & Noble, Mentor: 7-8 p.m.
Nov. 16: Stark County Library (Lake), 6:34 p.m. I will speak and sign books after.
Nov. 17: Barnes & Noble, Fairlawn: 7-8 p.m.