Forget The Bump. Move past the all-players meeting. Focus on more than the Heat’s record, talk of the process and LeBron’s childish comments about minutes played and having fun.
The drama engulfing this listless Miami Heat team, which beat the Wizards 105-94 on Monday night, stems from two vastly different men sharing one thing in common:
They are both stunningly clueless about what’s going on around them.
For Erik Spoelstra, this seems to be out of necessity. The 40-year-old head coach — who talked with LeBron during a pregame meeting Monday, the same day an ESPN report cited anonymous sources claiming Heat players are unhappy with his leadership — has no choice.
He has to believe the way he does in order to function in this pressure-cooker. He either backs LeBron or he gets bucked.
For LeBron, this utter lack of self-awareness — for his own well being as well of that of his team — flows as much from his trust in the wrong people as his own petulance.
On Monday, with the shots coming from the direction of his star player’s camp, and as folks tried to digest the ESPN report and handicap how long Spoelstra’s tenure will last, the embattled coach tried to strike the right tone: magnanimous, humorous, professional.
A short time later, LeBron stood by his locker and let this gem fly:
“I got coach Spo’s back on whatever the case may be,” he said. “This is who we have.”
This is who we have?
LeBron went on.
“If I have something to say to coach Spo, I’m going to go to coach Spo,” he said. “And if he has something to say to me, which he’s done already, he’ll come to me. But it’s nothing that I’ll go behind his back to take to the media. I’ve never done that. I’ll never do that. It’s not even my MO.”
Allow me to say what Spoelstra, in his self-delusion, will not and cannot:
That’s a load of crap.
Let’s examine the ESPN report that’s cast into the light just how out of touch, egotistical and self-destructive LeBron has become.
The writer, Chris Broussard, cut his chops covering the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal.
As you might have heard, LeBron is from Akron.
That suggests the bulk of the sourcing in Broussard’s report comes from LeBron’s camp.
“(Spoelstra’s) jumping on them,” the report quotes one source as saying. “If anything, he’s been too tough on them. Everybody knows LeBron is playful and likes to joke around, but Spoelstra told him in front of the whole team that he has to get more serious. The players couldn’t believe it. They feel like Spoelstra’s not letting them be themselves.”
Translation: It’s not fair the big mean coach is yelling at LeBron! Not fair at all!
Grow up, LeBron.
More from Broussard:
“Exhibit A was a recent shootaround in which Spoelstra told James that he had to get more serious,” he writes. “The source said Spoelstra called James out in front of the entire team, telling him, ‘I can’t tell when you’re serious.’”
Look, this is a very good piece of journalism. Broussard offers a window into the Heat’s troubled world.
But just as interesting is how the sources leaking the information didn’t grasp how transparent this is.
The LeBron James camp, unhappy that Spoelstra is being hard on him, seems to have planted a story meant to discredit the head coach.
Another public relations blunder from the geniuses who brought us The Decision.
This one will also have consequences. For LeBron as much as Spoelstra.
This is a boiling over that lets everyone see what LeBron has injected into this team: negativity, defeatism, excusism and, for now, a laying of blame at the feet of his young head coach.
It’s hard to doubt now that LeBron has lost his way. He is insulated, surrounded by yes men and floundering with his fame.
So strong is LeBron’s particular kind of poison, even Dwyane Wade has been swayed.
Not too long ago, Wade was the guy who by all accounts sold the other Big Three on Spoelstra.
Now, he’s saying things like this:
“I’m not going to say he’s my guy, but he’s my coach, you know,” Wade told reporters earlier in the day.
So yes, the report surely damaged Spoelstra. It damaged LeBron more.
Which brings us to this: LeBron’s people, those he trusts and have let in his inner circle, have let him down too many times.
There’s reason to believe — as do many who know him well — there’s still a good kid from Akron buried somewhere beneath all these sycophants, well-meaning-but-misguided friends and the others filling his orbit.
LeBron, right now, needs to become his own man.
He’s marching down a path that will not end well. Not for him, not for his chances of winning, not for his teammates or his buddy Dwyane.
If he wants to be the King, he needs learn how to rule.
And if he’s going to ignore reality, he must learn to do it with some grace.
That same head coach he has been busy undermining could serve as a solid example of how to do just that.
For once, LeBron needs to take a cue from a coach.
On Monday, the day the ESPN report came out, Spoelstra walked to his pregame news conference, sat down and again faced the firing squad LeBron has put in front of him.
With a smile.
Much of the media in that room believed this to be a dead man walking.
“Anything else come out?” Spoelstra asked. “Between shootaround and now? New story line? Come on. Something good!”
Then they fired away.
Lesson 1 for LeBron: Learn to laugh at yourself.
How’s his relationship with LeBron? Will it work? Is there a tough balancing act between coming down on talent and not being too hard?
This was Erik Spoelstra trying to figure out how to avoid the bus LeBron’s camp had just thrown him under.
To his credit, he responded calmly — with humor, some charm and no harsh words.
“It’s always a symbiotic relationship,” Spoelstra said. “I need the players. You need them to play, and it’s really their game. But the players really need structure. My job is to coach them but also to be demanding and push.
“One of the hardest things in this league really is to get NBA players to do things they don’t want to do when you feel like it’ll help your team win. That goes for every single coach in this league.”
Lesson 2 for LeBron: Act like a pro.
Spoelstra went on, saying — and seeming to believe — he can make this work. That relationships are forged in fire. That there’s a “silver lining” in all this.
Lesson 3 for LeBron: If you’re going to ignore reality — which Spoelstra surely is — interpret things in a way that have the best chance of being good for your team.
Not for yourself.
For your team.
Spoelstra, trapped in his own cluelessness by LeBron and the circumstances, seems at least capable of making his delusions helpful. He went out of his way to say that what’s been hard for him is hard for all NBA coaches. He talked about how this will all work out.
He didn’t say of LeBron, “This is who we have.”
He acted with class.
The thing that LeBron hasn’t grasped is the shortsightedness of all the trouble he’s sowing.
Yes, Erik Spoelstra almost certainly is finished if LeBron James wants it so. On that, the King is correct.
And yes, LeBron’s cluelessness, selfishness and conduct will undoubtedly harm his head coach’s shot at being successful in Miami.
But there’s a long term here, too, one LeBron is missing. Has always missed, from wearing a Yankees cap at an Indians game to his execution of The Decision to this season’s parade of immaturity.
There are consequences.
In his earnestness to cast blame for tomorrow, LeBron is missing the very real fact that he’s going to have to take responsibility for all of this in the end.
For Cleveland. For Mike Brown and Paul Silas. For Spoelstra. For what this Heat team does or doesn’t do.
That’s his role. That’s his place. That, good or bad, will be his legacy.
In the same way, only much more slowly, he’s doing to himself the same thing that he’s done to those who have dared to coach him.
He’s undermining a future that could work if only LeBron would just do his part — and no more.