The answer to LeBron's 'playmaker' problem is already on the Cavaliers' roster
LeBron James isn't happy with his Cleveland Cavaliers, and he has no problem sharing that anger publicly.
This week, the Cavs superstar told reporters he needs another playmaker — immediately — and he delivered his message with a sense of urgency we've rarely seen from the NBA's best player. The focus has been on LeBron's take that Cleveland needs a backup point guard, which is probably true.
But that's what LeBron was saying on the surface; in reality, there's a deeper message. The Cavs are stuck in isolation, resting on their laurels. And if something doesn't change in Cleveland, LeBron is not sure the Cavs will be able to go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors in their expected NBA Finals rubber match (via ESPN.com):
"I'm not singling out anybody. I'm not. Yeah, we won [the championship], but (expletive), you know what, let's see if we can do something.
"We need a (expletive) playmaker. I'm not saying you can just go find one, like you can go outside and see trees. I didn't say that."
Indeed, Irving's greatest strength with the Cavs is his ability to do whatever LeBron asks him to do — and for the rest of the season, LeBron needs Irving to embrace his inner point guard.
Rather than pound the ball into the ground in isolation before attacking the rim, Irving needs to run more pick-and-roll with Tristan Thompson and the rest of the Cleveland bigs. He needs to be the one who set ups guys like Richard Jefferson cutting through space. He needs to be the one always probing, trying to find open shooters. And most important, he needs to let LeBron take a step back as the engine that drives everything Cleveland does.
Irving shifting gears won't cure all of Cleveland's woes, of course. As LeBron told reporters, the Cavs are in trouble if he or Irving suffers a major injury. (To be fair, assuming said injury isn't catastrophic, Cleveland still would have options. They could sign free agent Jarrett Jack, who seems to be holding out for a deal with a title contender, or they could see what they have in Kay Felder. But we get LeBron's point.)
But Irving as a "true point guard" can alleviate some of the concerns about depth in Cleveland, too. If he focuses on allowing other guys to play their very best, instead of trying to score every time down, the Cavs can make the most of the players they do have on the roster. That might not mean championship-caliber play; it's hard to win 60 games if you give major minutes to DeAndre Liggins and Iman Shumpert. In the end, though, a poor regular-season showing is worth all the drama if it means being ready for the playoffs.
So yes, the Cavs might have to throw a few regular-season games here and there to maximize their current lineup; they might even slip to second in the Eastern Conference. But who cares? It's not like they're going to catch Golden State for the NBA's best record, and Cleveland certainly doesn't need home-court advantage to top the Raptors and Celtics in the East. The goal at this point is to make it to June unscathed, plain and simple.
There are no external answers for the Cavaliers. No savior is on the horizon. Sorry, LeBron.
Yet if Cleveland really wants to make a change, there are internal solutions — if only the Cavs are willing to find them. When you're more than $20 million over the salary cap, that's the best you can expect.