The Cavaliers are back on that horse, having broken a worrying slump with a 13-1 run; early panic is a memory, and another deep playoff run looks probable. But all isn't well in Cleveland. Kevin Love—who can become opt out of his contract this summer, by the way—cannot find his groove, especially on offense.
Saturday night, a full day after a loss to the Pacers in which Love scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting, James sent this Tweet:
Ominous! And obvious, given the context. In preseason, Love used those phrases in talking about his role on the team.
"I'm comfortable and just not trying to, I guess, fit in so much," Love said in October. "I had a talk with the guys on the plane ride over and also at different practices off the floor and they told me to fit out. Just be myself."
ESPN's Cavs correspondent paints LeBron's tweet as good leadership, rather than as the passive-aggressiveness it was. (And James can be forgiven for his frustration; he was promised a new Big Three, damn it. Well, if anything, history's going to be kind to Chris Bosh.) But yesterday, in a big win over a bad Lakers team, James did more than take social-media digs at his teammate. Love wants to be more involved with the offense? James went out of his way to get him involved, a power move on its own. And Love responded, putting up a season-high 32 points to go with 10 rebounds.
And then, a little weirdness, as if he had backed away from the sentiment behind the tweet: James first denied it had been directed at Love.
"It wasn't even about this team, it was more about people in general," James said initially, to a larger group of reporters. "It was just a general thought that I had, and obviously whatever thought I had people try to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff. It's just a general thought, that's all that is.
"And people are always trying to fit out instead of fitting in, instead of being a part of something special. And that's all that was about."
To illustrate his Da Vinci Code write-off, he gave this example: "I lost the Finals in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and that was the same day [7-11-14] I came back to Cleveland." To which we say:holy shit, how did we not see it at the time! But James went on to claim—possibly to throw us off the scent—that the date of his Cleveland return was mere "coincidence."
Then, when the press scrum had cleared a bit, James fessed up to the tweet.
"It's not a coincidence, man," James told a small group of reporters after the game.
The whole thing is vaguely silly, not least because "fit out" doesn't actually mean anything, but chemistry is a very real thing on a basketball team. Guys don't have to like being around each other, but they need to be comfortable playing together. It's understandably taken Love longer to adjust to being the gamma dog that it has James or Irving to slide into more natural roles. But that's the message James is sending, be in a tweet, or in his play, or in his volunteering to come off the bench: subsume your personal needs into the team's.
The ball's in Love's court. He can be a free agent this summer if he wants, and he was asked specifically if he'd return to Los Angeles, where he played college ball.
You almost wish someone would have asked Love about opting out in general, though you get the sense his answer to that wouldn't have been so unambiguous.