Cavs news: Team language when LeBron left parallels 98 Bulls

Cavs news (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Cavs news (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Michael Jordan and Cavs legend LeBron James parallel in many ways

The sentiment of a team being bigger than one star player was a death sentence for the Chicago Bulls, and it appears it was a death sentence for the Cleveland Cavaliers as well.

LeBron James, after being swept the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors with Cleveland in 2018, decided to take his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers. For the other competitive veterans of the Cavs, that left them in a precarious spot.

Do they stick around in Cleveland and try to compete sans LeBron? Or do they request a trade or buyout to a more competitive team?

For J.R. Smith, the answer was simple. If Cleveland wanted to compete, he would stick around happily. If not, a trade would be best.

Cleveland wasn’t exactly honest with him.

J.R. Smith revealed how the Cavs were similar to the ’98 Bulls

Speaking to Pat McAfee on his podcast, J.R. Smith spoke about the offseason in which LeBron James left Cleveland.

"“I want to be in Cleveland, I want to be a Cavalier. I know LeBron’s gone and everything, but obviously I know you guys have some decisions to make. So if you’re going to break the team up and do whatever and not be competitive, let me know and we can try to work out a trade or buyout or however the situation will go. And the whole time they were telling me, like, ‘oh no, we’re going to be competitive, we’re going to try to go to the Eastern Conference Finals, we’re still that team, and one person doesn’t define our team.'”"

That last part, “one person doesn’t define our team” comes very close to that of what Krause said about the Bulls in the final season of Jordan’s time with the dynasty.

It’s the same idea that pushed Michael Jordan to retirement in Chicago. As depicted in The Last Dance, former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was adamant — the organization wins championships, not one player or coach.

The organization is bigger than the player is what Krause wanted everyone to know. Of course, when you have the most talented and most dominant player in the league, that’s a somewhat ridiculous thing to say.

The ESPN documentary painted this sentiment as one rooted in jealousy, though the fairness of the doc is up for debate since Jordan had final say over all footage and interviews.

For the Cavaliers, this sentiment of “team is greater than player” wasn’t uttered until after James left town. You couldn’t possibly justify saying it when James had just brought the city its first NBA championship two years prior. Virtually everything good for Cleveland in recent history was due to James.

It was said after, though, and it was used in a similar way by management — to gain control over its players and keep them from overcoming the desires of the organization. They needed Smith to think he was coming to a competitor to try to leverage a trade if needed.

Smith went on to say that when he showed up for training camp, the energy wasn’t even close to what he was told it would be, and that it was clear the team was in rebuild mode.

Smith was waived in 2019 and has yet to find a spot on a new team.

James and Jordan are ever compared and tied together, for better or for worse. James spoke on The Last Dance himself, saying he took inspiration from it.

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