Has LeBron James Lost a Step in His Return to the Cavs? History Says It’s Likely

LeBron James was going home eventually. Most everyone around the NBA expected him to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers at some point before his career ended; after all, he’d never fully severed ties with the area and being viewed as a traitor where he grew up didn’t seem like something James wanted to face for the rest of his life. However much his skin thickened from the fallout of leaving, being loved by those who came up as he did still clearly matters to LeBron.

The only question was whether or not he’d come back while he was still at the height of his powers, or at least with a ready enough reserve to drive the franchise to a championship. That’s why, when he decided last summer to return, the howl of joy from northern Ohio was so unbridled. LeBron James wasn’t coming home as a battle-scarred veteran of skirmishes waged elsewhere—he was coming home as a warrior in his prime, ready to singlehandedly, if need be, deliver the chalice for which Clevelanders have thirsted for so long.

Or did he?

By the calendar, James, at 30, should have at least three solid seasons left to ply his do-everything talents. Michael Jordan, the measuring stick for every modern-day championship-contending superstar, played three more full seasons and won three more rings after the age of 30. Why couldn’t James duplicate that feat or even go beyond it? His listed height and weight (6’8″, 250 pounds) suggests he’s merely added 10 pounds since his rookie year and one before-and-after comparison will tell you how far from reality that is; but by any measure he has several inches and pounds on Jordan (last listed as 6’6″ and 216) and big men are generally able to squeeze out a few more quality years.

NBA teams, though, know better than to base where a player is in his career on his age; seasons and minutes played are a far better barometer. Looking at that metric, James didn’t return to Cleveland at the point Jordan began his pursuit of a second three-peathe returns with nearly the same mileage Jordan had on him when he retired from the Bulls for good at age 34.

Two teams at the forefront of the analytics movement told B/R they have tried to determine the tipping point at which career minutes played take something irretrievable from an NBA player. Both teams said they’ve yet to find it because there are too many variablesbody composition, style of play, role, concentration of minutes and ratio of regular-season to postseason minutes being only a few. That leaves us merely with anecdotal evidence, not only in terms of when a player realizes the NBA grind has diminished his physical ability for good, but also of the impact of multiple deep playoff runs. Every player will tell you the stress and heightened level of play in the postseason extracts something even greater than regular-season games and that the shortened offseason doubles down on the damage because their bodies have less time to recover.

“It takes a lot out of you that you can’t get back,” says Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who went to two consecutive NBA Finals (2002, ’03) with the New Jersey Nets. “Just the mental grind takes time to recover from. And then if you’re handling the ball 50 percent of the time? Look at every guy who has had to do that and gone to multiple finals in a rowthey’ve all broken down in some way. LeBron is the only one I can think of who hasn’t.”

Kidd turned 29 a few months before the 2003 Finals. Minutes played, regular season and playoffs combined at that point: 29,085.

A year later, he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee. One of the most explosive and athletic point guards ever had to transform himself from a one-man fast break into a walk-it-up technician and three-point specialist. He did all that after returning to his original team, the Dallas Mavericks, and eventually earned himself another trip to the Finals and the ring he’d missed out on with the Nets. But where he was the driving force – literally and figuratively – nine years earlier, he was now merely a cog. An invaluable, important cog, but a cog nonetheless.

Mark Jackson is 33rd on the all-time minutes played list with 39,121 plus another 3,776 from the postseason, despite only going to one NBA Finals. He doubts he’d logged any of them if he hadn’t learned early on to do what Kidd did in his return to Dallas.

“I was never a phenomenal athlete,” he said. “It didn’t slow down for me because it was already slow. If I’d had speed I’m not sure I would’ve made [it in] the league because it forced me to understand angles and timing right from the start.”

Even Jackson, though, recognized a change around the 20,000-minute mark. “I played against Allen Iverson his rookie year,” he said. “He shot the gap and steals the ball. There was a time when I could’ve fouled him or at least made him change direction. But I couldn’t even catch him. I realized then the clock was ticking.”

Kidd retired third on the all-time list of regular-season minutes played with 50,111. Microfracture surgery allowed him to extend his career and for a time he still felt he could hold his own athletically, but he believes the 40,000-minute mark was another turning point. He had to rely on his vision, strength and hands to compensate for what his legs no longer could do.

He’s noticed Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, among others, hit the same physical plateau around the same time.

James not only has Kidd beat 4-2 in consecutive Finals reached, and Finals’ appearances overall, 5-3, but the number of postseason minutes logged each time is not close. Kidd crossed the 850-minute playoff threshold once, logging 803, 852 and 744 minutes in his three longest playoff runs. James crossed the 950-minute threshold twice, logging 893, 922, 983, 960 and 763 minutes in his longest runs.

Jordan? He played more than 900 minutes in one postseason just once, in 1992.

His overall minutes in his two three-peats were fairly comparable (2,409 in the second vs. 2,392 in the first) but keep in mind that he played a different role capturing the second trifecta. He still closed games, but facilitating the offense and taking on the toughest defensive assignments fell far more often to his younger sidekick, Scottie Pippen.

Jordan bowed out after 35,887 regular-season minutes and 7,474 posteason minutes played. Three years later, he’d return one last time and add a little over 5,000 minutes to his regular-season total with the Wizards.

James, entering this season, already was closing in on Jordan’s Chicago totals with 33,276 regular-season and 6,717 postseason minutes. Cramps? Yeah, the man has earned the right to cramp up.

It’s actually remarkable that back spasms and leg cramps are the extent of James’ physical issues, considering how much he already has played. Sure, the variables also include a different level of physicality in today’s game vs. Jordan and Jackson and Kidd’s (early) eras. James hasn’t had to endure anywhere near the same body-to-body punishment that any of them did and it’s hard to know exactly how that fits into the equation.

The point? If James looks tired, he has a right to be. If he has lost a step, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. And if he isn’t up to the task of doing all that he did in Miami for the last four years, there’s a very good reason. This might not just be about “the process,” as James likes to say, of learning how to win championships.

This might just be about the price.


Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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Fordham Announces Ryan Canty Is Lost for Season, Then Drops Its 3rd Straight

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora told Bleacher Report 90 minutes before tip-off Sunday that center Ryan Canty will redshirt this season and return to the Rams as a fifth-year senior in 2015-16.

According to Pecora, the decision was ultimately made by the doctors who performed back surgery on Canty in September. Bleacher Report first reported on Canty‘s injury in August. At that time, it was thought he’d be out for at least the first month of the season.

Canty was expected to have a major impact this year. He would’ve been one of only two seniors trying to help guide a young team with seven freshmen. At 6’9″ he brought much-needed size and ability to the court. And, late last season, he seemed to be coming into his own.

Canty had 10 or more rebounds in five of the Rams’ final six games. In the regular-season finale against George Washington, he pulled down 16, then grabbed 19 in the play-in game of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Canty took a leave of absence early in the 2013-14 season which resulted in him missing six games. This year he was hoping to continue the progress he made down the stretch a season ago.

In late August, on the day the Rams left for their trip to Canada, Canty told B/R he hoped to return “stronger [and better]“ after surgery. His back has been an issue throughout his college career. Now, his return is a full year away.

Without Canty, Fordham’s losing streak is now at three after UMass Lowell came into the Rose Hill Gym Sunday evening and shocked the Rams, 64-57. After back-to-back losses at Penn State and Maryland, Fordham returned home for the first of four games, looking to pick up a much-needed win against an opponent certainly not on the level of what it’ll see once conference play begins in January.

UMass Lowell had a 25-24 lead at halftime. After a series of lead changes in the second half, the River Hawks went up by 11 with 6:26 to go. Following a timeout, the Rams showed some life but eventually found themselves trailing by 12 with less than two minutes to play.

Fordham started fouling with 1:40 left. The River Hawks couldn’t hit a free throw (7-for-26 on the night), but the Rams didn’t have much success on the offensive end, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor for the game (5-for-27 from three-point range) and struggling to hit a shot when they needed one most in the final couple of minutes.

Sometimes injuries, or injury news, can overshadow whatever happens on the court. Last night’s loss overshadows everything.

Afterward, Pecora called the loss embarrassing.

“They wanted it more than we did,” he said. He added, “This is not a good one, I’m not going to lie to you.”


Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. A full archive of his articles can be found hereFollow him on Twitter: @CFCostello.

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Chappelle: Donald Sterling shouldn’t have lost the Clippers

Comedian Dave Chappelle is back, according to a lengthy profile in GQ’s “Men of the Year” December issue. In a wide-ranging and insightful interview, Chappelle weighs in on a number of issues, but one of particular interest were his thoughts on disgraced and subsequently exiled former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The way Chappelle…Read More
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Kobe Bryant: Lost in the Land of Angels

An optimist, a pessimist and a realist walk into a bar… to watch a Lakers game.
It does not matter how you slice it, the Los Angeles Lakers’ 0-4 start is bad – Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern kind of a bad.
And domino after domino, the problems keep coming.
Steve Nash kissed his season, and probably career, goodbye and should be looking into trading in his sneaks for some orthopedic shoes.
Julius Randle, well, he tasted the NBA for a millisecond before breaking his leg. Seriously, I have had pieces of Double Bubble with flavor lasting longer than Randle’s rookie season did.
It is a shame. Honestly, it is.
You either love or hate the Lakers, but even if you hate them, it is never fun to see a team drown like they are.
At the same time, it is exhilarating, yet worrisome, that Kobe Bryant is single-handedly carrying a franchise when the window of opportunity is not just closed but locked, boarded up, and prepared for hurricane-force winds.
Yet, like a devoted husband, Bry…

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Chicago lost its breath when D-Rose tweaked ankle

He’ll be fine.



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Byron Scott on Julius Randle: ‘I thought he was lost’

Los Angeles Lakers rookie Julius Randle had 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds and five assists in his debut at Staples Center in a 120-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night. Lakers coach Byron Scott thought the team’s seventh overall pick looked “lost” on the court. “I thought he was lost, in the first half especially,” Scott said, per ESPNLosAngeles.com. “I thought in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter he was better, but I thought in the first half the game was way too fast for him. “He’s a 19-year-old playing against a good team like that and moves the ball the way they move and have 4s that are agile and athletic like he is? Yeah, I pretty much expected that.” Kobe Bryant said he’s been working with Randle on getting him acclimated to playing in the NBA. “He’s getting his feet wet,” Bryant said. “He’s still getting used to the NBA game and the speed of the game. The biggest thing for me is to see him trust his jump shot bec

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Anonymous executives: CP3 has lost a step

Some NBA executives think that Chris Paul has lost something, according to one reporter. Appearing on ESPN’s “Numbers Never Lie” Thursday, NBA reporter Chris Broussard was asked whether the Clippers could compete for an NBA title. The Clippers reached the Western Conference semifinals last season but lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games….Read More

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Cousins nearly lost his mind during a foul shot

At one point during the first half against Lithuania at the FIBA World Cup, DeMarcus Cousins became perhaps more frustrated with Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.



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By talking basketball, nothing lost in translation

No language barrier: At FIBA World Cup, speaking basketball leaves nothing lost in translation



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Finland lost by almost 60, their fans were still happy

Incurable optimists.



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