A legitimate question, I think...
Where's LeBron? How does your team sink like this two straight seasons?
Yes, he has spectacular nights, like the 56 against the Raptors earlier this month. And even with a sore ankle he rallied the Cavs from a big deficit Monday. Good stuff. But against the Hornets on Monday it was Zydrunas Ilgauskas taking and missing the last shot in regulation. It's certainly admirable to defer to teammates and get everyone involved. But when a team is collapsing, the star has to take over more and will his team to victory.
It's what was said about Tracy McGrady last season: How great could he be if he played on a team that lost 19 straight? Maybe he wasn't trying late in the season when he took off, but the losing streak came the first month. Likewise, Kevin Garnett. How does a team with all that talent not make the playoffs? The Timberwolves probably won't.
What all three have in common is skipping college.
Garnett effectively started the preps-to-pros run when he left Farragut Academy in 1996. So it hasn't been that long.
But never in NBA history has a team won a title with its main player skipping college.
The reason, I believe, is college trains basketball players about big games and their responsibility in those games. Is it a coincidence McGrady has never been on a team that won a playoff series and even with Yao Ming isn't in line for first-round homecourt advantage this season? That Garnett has been past the first round just once? Kobe Bryant has played on three championship teams. But with Shaquille O'Neal gone, Bryant will be out of the playoffs this season.
Coincidence? Perhaps--Bryant, after all, has shown an ability to rise to the moment in the biggest of games.
But this is a young NBA now. The Olympic team consisted mostly of young players, including high-schoolers James and Amare Stoudemire. Four of the top seven scorers in the NBA this season didn't attend college. But it was Dwyane Wade who went to the second round last season pre-Shaq.
There's no question James has more talent than any of them.
He is just a fraction short in rebounding of joining Jordan and Larry Bird as the only players in the last 25 years to average more than 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
No one ever has seen the package of size and talent. But it takes more than numbers to get you in that company.
Yes, any player needs help. But Jordan, even with a rag-tag bunch of teammates, never missed the playoffs with the Bulls. Bird took the Celtics to 61 wins and the conference finals in his rookie year, before the Celtics acquired Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Magic Johnson joined a Lakers team that won 47 games and was crushed in the early part of the playoffs and led them to a championship as a rookie.
It's no shame not to match their feats. They were the best ever to play the game.
But we're being told that we're seeing a repeat of that era with the likes of James, McGrady, Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Bryant. It hardly seems a better league now than it was then with 30 teams and expansion diluting the product every few years. When those guys dominated the NBA, they were going against Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and then Hakeem Olajuwon. One of the East's All-Star centers this year was Ilgauskas. And James has him.
Many around the NBA wondered what the effect of the high school invasion would be. I remember one executive saying they'd be great talents whom we'd never seen the likes of athletically, but they might never reach their potential because they stunted their basketball development by skipping college. The good ones would never quite be All-Stars and the great ones might never be true Hall of Famers.