LeBron James had another solid night Tuesday night against his old team. James scored 18 points, five rebounds and five assists on 8-for-21 shooting in the Heat’s 92-85 win. It was a relatively quiet night for James this season considering he is averaging 28.9 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game and 7.1 assists per game. Just ridiculous stats, and he is the early leader for the MVP this year.
As James plays more games against his former team, the vitriol and hurt would seem to be dying down (you hope). James made it no secret this offseason that the booing, especially from the fans in his hometown, hurt him. The sting has been a little less now, he said, but it is still there.
While Dan Gilbert burned that bridge in a return to Cleveland with his scathing letter and the reaction from fans that created it and that it continued, James still has not really left Cleveland. He returned to his hometown in Akron in the summer and, this may surprise many, he still keeps tabs on the Cavaliers and some of their former players.
Rather, James is doing a small part to bring along the Cavaliers’ youngest players and new building blocks, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reports, Irving and Thompson have long been under James’ wing:
“We talk a lot; I’ve been knowing Kyrie since he was a ninth grader and it’s been great to see him continue to get better over the years and do the things he’s doing in Cleveland right now,” James said. “He’s been playing great. He’s been showing why he’s the No. 1 pick in the draft. Cleveland got a great pick.”
Thompson called James “like a brother.” Both Irving and Thompson are now leading a surprising team that is in the hunt for the Playoffs and looking to build a new legacy in James’ wake. Irving said he does not feel the pressure of filling James’ shoes as they are totally different players, but you have to imagine it is there.
James brought a golden age to Cleveland and is undoubtedly the best player in the franchise’s history. Irving is certainly a promising player, but not at James’ level in his first year.
Irving and Thompson are off to good starts though.
Cleveland, after a 19-63 season last year that earned the team the most ping-pong balls in the lottery (ironically it was the Clippers pick that nabbed Irving), is 6-10 and in the Playoff hunt. Irving leads the team with 17.4 points per game and 4.8 assists per game. He is showing no slowdown on getting the offense as he is shooting 50.7 percent from the floor and 41.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Predictably turnovers are a problem (3.6 per game), but Irving has certainly taken whatever he learned from James and from everyone else he has talked to in getting off to a good start.
Thompson is still finding his way as an NBA power forward with 8.1 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game. Patience was the word with him.
James continued relationship with Irving and the Cavaliers player nucleus is one of the positives of the revolution James led when he went to Miami. These players friends and competitors. They may not be at each other’s throats like opponents were in previous years, but it is good that a veteran player is helping out a young player find his way. This is the side of the basketball fraternity that is difficult to hate — even if it comes with the side effects fans hate like superstars teaming up and trying to play with their friends.
Is this tutelage enough to cure whatever beef Cleveland, Ohio and NBA fans have with LeBron?
If you believe Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio’s source, it might. He reports that James has been a little irked with Pat Riley’s old school, hard-driving atmosphere in the Heat camp and that James is considering opting out of his contract in 2014 and returning to Cleveland, even if it means not playing with his friends anymore. That time is a long way from now and that report was vehemently refuted by Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald. Andrew Sharp of SBNation is skeptical too.
Whether or not James sees a return to Cleveland in his future — immediate or otherwise — is solely up to him. Whether the fans of Cleveland will take him back is another story entirely.
One thing that is pretty clear though is that James still has some connection to the team that drafted him and still wants to help its players be the best they can be as a friend and mentor.
Maybe this relationship between hero-turned-villain and hometown can be repaired.