Three time NBA Champion and four time Most Valuable Player of the Year LeBron James has been called many things in his life as a basketball player. Since bursting on the scene as a high school phenom, James has been labeled, Bron Bron, Micheal Jordan’s heir among others but not all the name tags are media induced. Perhaps one of his most famous monikers, “Chosen One”, has been inked on his back during the days he battled a young Carmelo Anthony of Oak Hill Academy in a high school game.
One name that has gained traction in recent times is contingent on his ability to turn around teams from mere passengers, riding along, to instant contenders for a championship. One only has to look at Cleveland Cavaliers instant jump from non playoff team to battling Golden State Warriors in the final game. In doing so, Jameshas come up big in turning around the careers of players.
Two players who were instrumental in Cleveland’s run to the finals last year and trophy some weeks ago, were Iman Shumpert and J.R.Smith. The duo were off loaded by New York Knicks without hesitation and brought in by Cleveland for draft picks to rebuild the Knicks at the behest of James who wanted the duo by his side.
Long story short, playing alongside James transformed Smith, a maligned figure for his bad shot selection and erratic play and Shumpert wasn’t viewed as a prospect who could live up to his talent especially after suffering a major anterior cruciate ligament injury. However after 16 months, Shumpert is being paid an annual average salary of $10 million after signing a four year 440 million dollar contract. Smith on the other hand, had one of his most efficient season shooting the ball particularly in the playoffs where he converted 65 of 151 shots from three point range.
For comparison sake, he attempted 108 similar shots and converted only 36 of them in 2008-2009 season during his stint with Denver Nuggets. In his first playoff season with New York Knicks, he converted only five of 28 shots from three point range according to Basketballreference.com. Since playing impeccable defense to go with his improved shooting and bring Cleveland its’ maiden basketball title, Smith is in line for a massive raise this offseason. Per multiple sources Smith is pushing for a $15 million salary after no team offered him his desired amount just a year ago. In light of recent reports citing Lance Stephenson as a hot property for the European market and Cleveland having some spots open on its roster, the situation offers another opportunity for LeBron James to show how good a teammate he is.
Stephenson’s career has corralled off track since leaving Indiana Pacers five year $44 million contract two seasons ago after leading the NBA in triple doubles and almost making the All-Star Team in the East. He signed for a similar salary but fewer years to make him a free agent and renew his contract earlier than what Indiana offered. Charlotte Hornets signed him up and offloaded him after one season to Los Angeles Clippers who did same mid way through the season last year to Memphis Grizzlies. Though in dire need for shooting and skill of Stephenson’s ilk, Memphis would not have been desperate for his services had the team not been hit hard by a freak injury virus that had multiple players out for the season.
Mike Conley-who now owns the NBA’s biggest contract ever after inking a colossal five year $153 million contract-, Marc Gasol and Mario Chalmers had their respective seasons cut short after sustaining season ending malaises. In Memphis, Stephenson replicated some form of his Indiana self by averaging 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 26 games. A move for Stephenson would be great for a Cleveland side that needs shooting from all areas if it is to contend for a title with Golden State Warriors who upped the ante on a 73 win regular season by signing 2014 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kevin Durant to align forces with 2015 and 2016 MVP Steph Curry, and Olympians Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Plus his inclusion gives Coach Tyronne Lue lots of options on the perimeter as Stephenson-a Shooting Guard- has logged loads of time as a Small Forward who defended LeBron during the epic Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers series. Playing him gives LeBron more time at Power Forward where he has thrived lately as his shot from deep keeps trekking down. In the just ended playoffs, he converted 1.5 of 4.5 three point attempts but was more efficient shooting closer to the basket as he did in carrying Miami to two titles.
His late showing at Memphis shows there is still life in the man called “Born Ready” and a man dubbed “King” can bestow royalty on him.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah